The Legacy of William Meehan: Paving the Road to the Presidency

By Heather Greene

1984While Dr. William A. Meehan has been a figure in 47 years of Jacksonville State University history, the road between the classroom and the presidency consisted of a few stops along the way.

Meehan served in several other roles including coordinator of medical technology, director of academic advisement, assistant to the vice president for academic affairs, acting vice president for academic affairs, associate vice president for academic and student affairs, and acting vice president for institutional advancement. As if his plate wasn’t full enough, he also taught a biology lab class or two on the side, just because he loved teaching.

Having served under President Dr. Ernest Stone while he was a faculty member, Meehan began to step into administrative roles under the leadership of Presidents Dr. Theron Montgomery and Dr. Harold McGee. His transition from the classroom to the administration came when the university received a Title III grant in 1979 and needed someone to take over academic advisement. Montgomery approached Meehan and asked if he was interested in the position, which consisted of coordinating all of the advisement activities for the university.

At Dr. Montgomery’s 90th birthday party at JSU earlier this month, Meehan joked that he had been hired five times by Montgomery and always asked if that meant he had consequently been fired four times, to which Montgomery would always reply, “No, I just moved you around.”

Montgomery was the first to hire Meehan at JSU, persuading him to turn down multiple job offers and join the biology faculty in 1977. When asked what stood out to him about Meehan, Montgomery said, “He was a hard worker, and he was intelligent.”

From 1979 to 1998, Meehan assumed several roles of increasing responsibility in student affairs, ultimately becoming associate vice president for academic and student affairs. For a decade he was responsible for providing academic counseling and coaching to students who were struggling in school, as well as working with faculty and deans on assisting those students with remediation. He also oversaw admissions, recruiting, and the dual enrollment program.

After filling in as acting vice president for institutional advancement for a year, Meehan was named president of JSU in 1999. Dr. Rebecca Turner, who worked closely with him as head of the Department of Sociology and Social Work, stepped into his shoes in the office of associate vice president for academic and student affairs. She said Meehan was great at encouraging students who were having difficulties, as well as advising faculty and staff on academic policies and processes.

"He has always been a people person, so that role suited him well,” Turner said. “As a department head, I saw him as wise and someone we could turn to in a dilemma - a go to guy.” 

Meehan’s legacy as a student advocate carries over from generation to generation. Sherrie Bruce,’82, who was a student during Meehan’s student administration days, returned to JSU with her son in 2013 for Meet the Gamecocks. 

“My husband, Gil Bruce,’82, and I were thrilled our son John had chosen to attend JSU,” said Bruce. “We spoke with Dr. Meehan that day, telling him John would be on campus that Fall 2013. Dr. Meehan was so nice to John that afternoon and even gave him a coveted JSU pin. John likes to tell everyone his pin came from the president! About a week later, John received an email from Dr. Meehan welcoming him to campus and inviting him to stop by his office anytime, and telling John to let him know if he needed his assistance. What a wonderful gesture! I still don't know how he remembered his name from all the people he talked to that day. Dr. Meehan has always been so gracious every time I've been around him. He has been a wonderful representative of our beloved JSU.” 

Another individual who remembers Meehan during this time period is Darren Douthitt, superintendent of Anniston City Schools. 

"It will be very difficult for Jacksonville State University to replace Dr. Meehan,” said Douthitt. “I have known him since 1985, when he served as an advisor to the Inter-Fraternity Council. Dr. Meehan impressed me then as a person who had the students' best interest at heart. Almost 30 years later, I am even more impressed with his unique ability to connect with students, alumni and staff. He sacrificed the best years of his life to fulfill the role of college president. Dr. Meehan has been a dedicated servant leader at Jacksonville State University and I will miss him dearly. It is my hope that his retirement is replete with longevity and serenity." 

In next week’s Town & Gown, we will focus on Meehan’s family life. Do you have any compliments you would like to send to the Meehan family? We would like to hear your stories! Share them here.

Photo: Meehan in 1984 as Director of Academic Advisement and Assistant Vice President of Academic Affairs. (1984 Mimosa)