Editor's note: An updated version of this article with new interviews and photos appears in the Fall 2022 W&M Alumni Magazine.
From her time as an undergraduate at William & Mary, it was clear that Marilyn Ward Midyette ’75 is a natural leader. As a student, she immersed herself in the life of the university as a cheerleader, a resident assistant, a member of Delta Delta Delta and the W&M Choir.
Now, after eight years of spearheading programs and services for William & Mary’s more than 100,000 alumni, creating signature initiatives that raise the university’s profile and overseeing the extensive renovation and expansion of the Alumni House, Midyette is set to retire Aug. 1 as the leader of the university’s alumni engagement efforts and the W&M Alumni Association.
“For someone who doesn’t know Marilyn, I would describe her as a force, both inward and outward, with her personality, her positive outlook, her enthusiasm, her sense of humor and her infectious laugh,” classmate and fellow Alumni Medallion recipient Lynn Melzer Dillon ’75 said when Midyette received the Alumni Medallion in 2011. “She attracts you into her circle and then she pushes you … to make a difference in life.”
Those qualities propelled Midyette to leadership positions at Sprint, where she became a regional vice president, and at the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta, where she guided one of the organization’s 10 largest councils in the country as CEO.
Throughout her professional career, Midyette remained active with her alma mater through alumni chapters in Georgia and Illinois and by serving on the Class of 1975 Reunion Committees, the Annual Giving Board of Directors and the Alumni Association Board of Directors.
In 2014, William & Mary and the Alumni Association board decided to merge the WMAA staff with University Development to form a new University Advancement organization. According to Vice President for University Advancement Matthew T. Lambert ’99, Midyette was an obvious choice as the first person to serve jointly as associate vice president for alumni engagement and executive director of the W&M Alumni Association.
“Marilyn has played an absolutely crucial role in helping the university build a robust culture of engagement and philanthropy among our more than 100,000 alumni,” said Lambert, who returned to William & Mary in 2013 and hired Midyette.
“She has been uncompromising in the best possible way — she is a tireless advocate for our alumni and she understands the power of community,” Lambert said. “She recognizes that for William & Mary to sustain our commitment to excellence and make an impact globally, we need the support of an engaged and active alumni network.”
Anna Dinwiddie Hatfield ’96, president of the W&M Alumni Association, said that the former Tribe cheerleader has set an inspiring example in her lifelong dedication to all things green and gold.
“There is no stronger champion for William & Mary alumni than Marilyn Midyette,” Hatfield said. “She so passionately worked for exceptional alumni programming and other ways for alumni to deepen connections with each other and William & Mary. It was a pleasure to work with Marilyn, and it has been a great joy to see her vision for the Alumni House come to life and become a beautiful home for alumni for generations to come.”
In announcing Midyette’s retirement, Lambert and Hatfield cited her accomplishments in expanding alumni programs to include intellectual, cultural, professional and social engagement opportunities and in harnessing the interests and connections of a growing and more diverse community. William & Mary Weekend debuted under her leadership and traveled from Williamsburg, Virginia, to Washington, D.C., New York City and Chicago (and will move to San Francisco in June 2023).
Will Payne ’01, vice rector of the William & Mary Board of Visitors, thanked Midyette for her distinguished service during a time of significant change at William & Mary.
“As a seasoned chief executive, Marilyn Midyette has transformed the university’s alumni engagement operation into a model that continues to buck national trends, demonstrating the power of the William & Mary network and a shared commitment by all to develop lifelong, meaningful relationships,” he said. “Marilyn has a rare ability to develop a vision, build consensus and inspire action on an international scale; and as a result, she leaves a legacy for which we are all grateful.”
Midyette’s tenure coincided with William & Mary’s ambitious For the Bold campaign, which ended June 30, 2020, after raising $1.04 billion for the university. The campaign’s goals included increasing alumni participation and strengthening alumni engagement.
Under her leadership, the university launched Professionals Week, W&M Women’s Weekend, a reimagined Homecoming & Reunion Weekend, Traditions Weekend, new virtual programming featuring alumni experts in their fields, and the addition and growth of affinity and identity-based inclusion initiatives, among other offerings. Through these creative programs and events, the university saw the number of alumni participating in expanded activities — including new career and networking opportunities — triple over the course of the campaign from approximately 10,000 per year to more than 30,000 per year, establishing a trajectory for growth.
Robust engagement is key to building a strong philanthropic culture among William & Mary's alumni community, and W&M has been ranked the No. 1 public university for alumni giving in the U.S. several years in a row.
“We are so grateful to Marilyn for her forward-thinking leadership,” President Katherine Rowe said. “She believes in the future of William & Mary and rallies alumni to support it. Our alumni are more connected than ever to each other and to our university.”
The career engagement and professional network initiatives that began under Midyette’s watch create opportunities for alumni to support each other and interact with current students, Rowe said. She added, “We will build on the relationships Marilyn forged to advance our career initiative under Vision 2026. Our goal is simple: that our alumni support each other professionally from their first job to their last.”
Particularly notable was the 2020 opening of the expanded Alumni House after years of planning and fundraising, adding 33,000 square feet of new space in addition to careful renovation of the existing historic house, Lambert and Hatfield said in their announcement: “Marilyn ensured the Alumni House was built with the utmost beauty and functionality and that it was built to last for ages with future expansion space included. She worked to raise funds to support and care for the building over the years and built the strongest financial foundation for the Alumni Association in its history.”
A national search for Midyette’s successor will begin immediately and will be spearheaded by Lambert. Howard Busbee ’65, J.D. ’67, M.L.T ’68, L.H.D. ’22, P ’90, P ’04 will assume the role of interim leader of the alumni engagement efforts and the W&M Alumni Association on Aug. 1 and will serve until Midyette’s successor is hired.
A former faculty member and assistant dean at the Raymond A. Mason School of Business, Busbee spent 33 years as a tax partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers before turning to higher education for his second career. Always willing to answer alma mater’s call, Busbee has been active in many of the university’s leadership groups, serving as current vice chair of the William & Mary Real Estate Foundation, as well as co-chair of the Honorable Robert Boyle Legacy Society.
His previous roles include president of the W&M Alumni Association, chair of the W&M Foundation and chair of the Olde Guarde Council. For his service, he has received the Alumni Medallion, W&M Law School’s Citizen Lawyer Award and, most recently, an honorary doctor of humane letters (L.H.D.) degree during this year’s Charter Day ceremony. Named in his honor, the Howard J. Busbee Finance Academy teaches W&M undergraduates about careers in finance and provides them opportunities to connect with professionals.
“We are thankful to Howard for his willingness to step in and guide our alumni engagement efforts during this transition,” Lambert said. “As an alumnus, parent and leader in both business and academia, he knows every branch of the William & Mary family and he will use that knowledge to benefit our alumni community and the university — just as he has always done.”
As she moves into retirement, Midyette leaves a legacy of success and devotion to William & Mary. Both she and her husband, Payne H. Midyette ’75, have given generously to their alma mater, contributing funds to the Alumni House expansion, the Alumni Association and W&M Athletics, among other programs.
During an interview for the W&M Alumni Magazine in 2014, Marilyn recalled that Payne wholeheartedly endorsed her taking on the WMAA leadership role, and he has been at her side during countless events over the last eight years.
“I remember distinctly when I told my husband I had gotten a call,” she said in the interview. “He said, ‘Marilyn, you know this has your name written all over it. This is your dream job.’”