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The Deacon Blog

A magazine staff blog with news of alumni and the WFU community

Alumni

Our man in Bahrain

Roebuck-at-HearingAfter serving in some of the hottest spots in the world — Libya, Iraq, Syria and Israel — William Roebuck’s (’78, MA ’81) next posting might seem like a day at the beach for the career diplomat.

In July, President Obama nominated Roebuck as the next U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain, an archipelago in the Persian Gulf with about 1.3 million people. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved Roebuck’s nomination last month, but he still awaits confirmation by the full Senate.

Testifying before the foreign relations committee, Roebeck summed up his impressive 20-year career: “I have spent most of my career posted in the Middle East … fostering political dialogue, providing support for elections, helping governments address the threats posed by terrorism and violent extremism, promoting and protecting human rights, and encouraging regional security efforts between neighbors.”

Roebuck follows in the footsteps of at least two other alumni. Jeannette Wallace Hyde (’58) was ambassador to Barbados and areas of the West Indies from 1994 to 1997. The late Graham Martin (’32) was a career diplomat who served as ambassador to Thailand and Italy and was the last U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam before the country’s fall to North Vietnam in 1975.

“Bill” Roebuck, 58, grew up in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and received a George Foster Hankins Scholarship to Wake Forest. He wrote for the Old Gold & Black and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in English literature.

As reported on the news site, AllGov.com, and in his State Department biography, Roebuck served in Côte D’Ivoire during a stint with the Peace Corps and taught English in Saudi Arabia. After earning a law degree from the University of Georgia, he joined the Foreign Service in 1992. In the two decades since, he’s become a well-traveled and respected diplomat.

He was a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv for several years before moving to Damascus, Syria, where he served as acting deputy chief of mission. After a short stint in Washington, he went back to the Middle East as deputy political counselor at the embassy in Baghdad in 2009 and 2010.

Roebuck was sent to Tripoli, Libya, in early 2013 as chargé d’affaires — the top U.S. diplomat in the country in the absence of an ambassador — several months after Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. Most recently, he was deputy assistant secretary of state of Egypt and Maghreb Affairs, based in Washington.

While Bahrain doesn’t attract the headlines of its Middle East neighbors, Roebuck isn’t likely to have much time to spend at the beach. He’s sure to be tested as he and the U.S. government push back against the Bahrain government’s human-rights record and targeting of opposition groups.

Fitting for one who spent his college days studying literature, Roebuck occasionally writes poetry for the Foreign Service Journal. Bahrain’s leading English newspaper, the Daily Tribune, even described the “new amby” as a poet. Roebuck once penned a moving tribute to his late friend, Chris Stevens, which reads, in part:

“I think back to that long night last September: the frantic phone calls,
 The unreliable shards of information, the series of urgent plans drawn up and discarded, The crushing news, And no time to mourn, then or later.”

– Kerry M. King (’85)

The penguin that’s proud to be a Deacon

Deacon, and his brother or sister -- keepers still don't know the sex of either penguin. Watch a video  of the penguins.

Deacon, at left, and his unnamed brother or sister — keepers still don’t know the sex of either penguin. Watch a video of the penguins. Photos courtesy of Greensboro Science Center.

We know plenty of alumni who name their dogs Deacon, but a penguin named Deacon? That’s something we don’t hear every day, or ever for that matter.

Just down the road at the Greensboro Science Center there’s a new African penguin chick — one of two hatched in late August — that was recently named Deacon. In a story on the penguin chicks, the Greensboro News & Record took note of the unique name: “A Science Center patron bought naming rights in honor of a friend — and faithful Wake Forest fan — who died of ALS.”

The newspaper article didn’t mention the name of that faithful Wake Forest fan. But we knew it had to be Pete Moffitt (’84), who lived in Greensboro before dying of ALS in August 2013. Pete was indeed a huge Wake Forest fan and a friend to many here on campus.

A quick look at his wife’s Facebook page confirmed the penguin connection. Susan Gunter Moffitt (’86) posted a photo and this message several days ago: “Here is the newest member of the Moffitt family. Welcome Deacon! We are truly honored by this offering of friendship and love! Pete would be so moved by your thoughtfulness Washburn family.”

Deacon Taken September 10

When I called Susan Moffitt to learn more, she was still filled with gratitude to the Washburn family. The Washburn family — the Washburns and Moffitts have been friends for years — purchased the naming rights to the penguin. She didn’t know the penguin’s name until Jess Washburn made the announcement last week at the Science Center. (The second penguin is still unnamed.)

Washburn explained why he chose the name to honor his friend: “Pete was a passionate, devoted Wake Forest fan. Through winning and losing seasons, Pete was a die-hard. He rarely missed a game and always kept the faith!”

Deacon the penguin has a good Wake Forest lineage. In addition to Pete and Susan, Pete’s father, William E. Moffitt (’52), and late uncle Robert Moffitt Sr. (’58), are also alumni. Pete and Susan’s twin daughters, Mary Layton and Hastings, are high school seniors who are considering Wake Forest. (An athletic scholarship and the Moffitt Courage Award at Wake Forest are named for Pete Moffitt.)

Susan was on a mission this morning, searching for a “Proud to be a Deacon” pin to stick on the penguin. No, not the real penguin, she assured me, but a stuffed penguin much loved by one of her daughters, whose room is filled with penguins. How special is that?

– Kerry M. King (’85)

The father of Wake Forest ROTC

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If you graduated from Wake Forest between 1940 and 2000, you probably knew, or at least knew of, Robert Helm (’39). Odds are good that you, or a friend, had Helm for “Meaning and Value,” “Space and Time” or some other equally challenging philosophy course. It was what I didn’t know about the retired philosophy professor that left me surprised and impressed Homecoming weekend.

If you were at the Wake Forest-Army game Saturday, it had to warm your heart to see Helm – 97 years old and looking spiffy in a bow tie and Wake Forest #1 jersey – hitch a ride with the Demon Deacon to “open the gate” at BB&T Field.

Helm’s service to Wake Forest is unparalleled. He joined the faculty shortly after graduating, left for a few years to serve in World War II and then rejoined the faculty to teach until 2002. He was named to a distinguished professorship in 1983 when he was appointed Worrell Professor of Philosophy.

But he was honored, appropriately, at the Army game for what I suspect many at BB&T Field didn’t know about him until they heard the P.A. announcer describe his service to his country and school. Lieutenant Colonel Helm served in World War II in France, Luxemburg and Germany. He was with the 89th Infantry Division in General George Patton’s Third Army as it fought its way across Europe.

When he returned to Wake Forest in 1947, he persuaded then-President Harold W. Tribble to pursue an ROTC program on campus. According to Bynum Shaw’s “History of Wake Forest College,” about 300 colleges and universities submitted applications to the Department of Defense to start ROTC programs on their campuses; 32 were selected, including Wake Forest. The Wake Forest ROTC unit had offices and classrooms in the basement of Binkley Chapel on the Old Campus; drills were held on the athletic playing fields. Helm served for years as faculty coordinator and chairman of the ROTC committee while continuing to serve in the Army Reserve.

Honoring Robert Helm at BB&T Field were (left to right) Charles  McCartney,  John Yingling ('74), Robert Caslen and Richard Beale.

Honoring Robert Helm at BB&T Field were (left to right) Charles McCartney, John Yingling, Robert Caslen and Richard Beale.

Since 1951, nearly 2,000 Wake Forest graduates have been commissioned as Army second lieutenants. If you’ve ever been to Commencement, you know that the commissioning ceremony is one of the highlights of the day.

An impressive trio of officers who got their start through the Wake Forest ROTC program was on hand to honor Helm at BB&T Field. Major General (Ret.) Richard Beale (’64), Major General (Ret.) Charles McCartney (’69) and Major General (Ret.) John Yingling (’74). They are the only Wake Forest Army ROTC graduates to be promoted to the rank of Major General. They were joined by Lieutenant General Robert Caslen, superintendent of the United States Military Academy.

The day before, Helm was recognized at the Half Century Club luncheon — for alumni who graduated 50 years ago or more — for the 75th anniversary of his graduation from Wake Forest. Beale, who was there, too, to celebrate his 50th reunion, was eager to talk with me about Helm, calling him “the father of the Wake Forest ROTC.”

20140920homecoming0820“He’s a patriot. He was part of that generation that Tom Brokaw refers to as ‘the greatest generation.’ He understood the importance of serving your country when the time came,” said Beale, who retired in 1996.

“What he realized by serving in World War II … he understood the importance of having people enter the Army and the commissioned officer corps who had a liberal arts education from a fine college or university to blend with the engineering background of the officers that came in from West Point. He had a vision when he got back to campus, and he approached Dr. Tribble about the merits of bringing ROTC to the campus.”

And that’s why Robert Helm was chosen to open the gate.

– Kerry M. King (’85)

The hitchhiker’s 76th reunion

Fred Williams Sr. ('38, JD '40) with his son, Fred ('67, JD '69), and daughter-in-law, Susan ('67).

Fred Williams Sr. (’38, JD ’40) with his son, Fred (’67, JD ’69), and daughter-in-law Susan (’67).

I doubt there’s any alumnus who can top Fred Williams Sr.’s story on how he came to Wake Forest.

Williams (’38, JD ’40) celebrated his 76th reunion at Homecoming this year. Let that sink in for a moment: it’s been 76 years since he graduated from Wake Forest College. And he’s a spry 99 years old.

It was 81 years ago this month that Williams arrived on the Old Campus. It was a long road from his boyhood home in Trion, Georgia: 510 miles, he tells me on a sunny afternoon Homecoming weekend. It’s a good eight-hour car ride today. Back in his day, it took him two full days: He hitchhiked. The entire way.

Williams’ cousin, Jake Howell (’32), had convinced him that Wake Forest was the place he should go to college. He didn’t waste any time applying. On a Saturday morning in early September 1933, he headed out to Highway 27 and stuck out his thumb.

“My dad spent $12 for a steamer trunk, and I put everything that I had in there and shipped it Railroad Express to Wake Forest, North Carolina. I had never been there, didn’t know anything about it” other than what his cousin had told him, Williams said.

Two days later, he was standing in front of Hardwick’s Drug Store on White Street in the town of Wake Forest with $70 in his pocket. He found a place to live on the second floor of Wilkerson’s grocery store ($32.50 for the semester) and headed over to campus for orientation.

Everything was going smoothly until registrar Grady Patterson (’24) asked him for his bursar’s card, Williams recalled. “I had never heard of one. I said ‘where do you get one?’ He said, ‘Across the hall.’”

That led him to the office of bursar E.B. Earnshaw (1906, MA 1908), who explained that tuition was $100 and fees were $37.50. Williams remembers their conversation like it was yesterday. “He said, ‘I can let you sign a note for tuition, but you’ll have to pay your student fees.’ I said ‘I don’t have any money.’ And he said, ‘You can’t pay your student fees?’ And I said ‘I don’t have any money.’ It seemed like it was 15 minutes, but it was probably only a minute or two, and he said, ‘You know, I’m going to let you register.’”

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Earnshaw’s faith in the young hitchhiker from Georgia was well-placed. Williams went on to graduate from law school and have a highly successful career as a lawyer and commercial real estate developer in Greensboro, North Carolina. And he’s given back to the school that gave him a chance so long ago, endowing a scholarship and a distinguished faculty chair in the law school.

But Williams admits that he made a mistake naming the scholarship: “Instead of the Fred Williams Scholarship, it should be the E.B. Earnshaw Scholarship,” he says. “Wake Forest made my life.”

— Kerry M. King (’85)