Bill McBride likes to play with fire.
An amateur magician for years, he makes flames fly through the
air with the greatest of ease. A mild-mannered carpenter in Facilities
Management by day, McBride recently has guided the Employee Council
through a volatile year in which perhaps its biggest accomplishment
wasliterallyclearing the smoky air.
McBride cuts a laid-back profile, but his passions are considerable
and this year hes had ample opportunity to put them to work.
Five days ago, at the councils most recent meeting, McBrides
reign as president ended. The presidency passed to Grady Hospitals
Cheryl Bowie, who had spent the previous 12 months as president-elect,
while McBride eased into ex officio status.
Presiding over Employee Council, the mouthpiece of Emorys
roughly 18,000 employees, is one of the most challenging jobs on
I was really honored that someone like me, a carpenter, would
be elected to the office, said McBride, who volunteered for
the council a couple years ago. Prior to coming to Emory, he had
more than 20 years of construction experiencemuch of it supervisoryand
had taken a pay cut to come to the University. The council would
be his way to contribute to his new work place.
McBride was assigned to the councils special issues committee
(Thats where the gripes are; thats where the fun
is, he said), eventually rising to co-chair. That put him
in line for the council presidency, which he took over last spring.
I probably havent been as active as some of the previous
presidents, but based on my situation, I feel like I did a pretty
thorough job of doing what needed to be donemeeting with committee
people and dealing with the issues that came up.
McBrides self-effacing evaluation of his presidency is a
reflection of his personality rather than his accomplishments. He
skillfully and professionally guided the council through some difficult
issues, including the current benefits debate, without allowing
any discussions to get out of hand.
Earlier in the year, the Employee Council led the way on another
touchy subject, Emorys smoking policy. Months of dialogue
eventually resulted in a council-written resolution asking President
Bill Chace to designate a task force to identify smoke-free main
entrances to buildings and create smoking areas outside buildings.
That issue just seemed to drag on forever, McBride
said. I wouldve preferred to do something even more
comprehensive, but there are going to be some changes, so Im
proud of that.
Not all of McBrides tenure has been spent rocking boats.
One of the councils major accomplishments this year has been
its foray into servant leadership, a workplace philosophy that challenges
all employees to be leaders, regardless of their position.
Its unfortunate that a lot of workers hate their job
and theyre scared to death that theyre going to lose
it. Thats no way to live, McBride said. With all
Emorys resources, theres really no reason why this cant
be the best place to work in the South. I like working here and
a lot of people feel that way. But a lot of other people feel that
if Emory just did some more it would be an [even greater] place
to work. Thats our goal.
McBride particularly lauded the leadership in Facilities Management,
led by Senior Associate Vice President Bob Hascall, as enlightened,
and part of the reason McBride wanted to take such an active role
in Employee Council was to pass along some of his experiences in
You spend most of your life working, and if you can do something
to make that enjoyable I think youll live longer and youll
be a much better person, he said.
McBrides titlecarpenterimplies a certain scope
of job. Its a bit misleading; McBride does much more than
cut wood. His team is responsible for setting up the Commencement
stage. They do all the Universitys signage, fix the sidewalks,
build ramps to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations,
and work on many other projects, sometimes three or four a day.
Sixty percent of what we do is reactive, McBride said.
If there is a busted steam line, we have to drop everything
and go dig it up.
McBrides off-campus activities are just as involved as those
on campus. For instance, he does a lot of work with children, and
to break the ice he utilizes a skill hes had since he was
their age: magic.
I got the idea that if youre a magician, you can smart-mouth
adults and get away with it because they dont know how you
did the trick. McBride said. The first couple years,
I was so inept, it was like I was a joke. People could see what
I was doing, but everybody played along because it was cute, I guess.
But when I developed some proficiency, I also developed the
smart-aleck thing. That was enjoyable because everybody enjoys the
stuffing being taken out of the stuffed shirt. To do something that
totally bamboozles them is fun. I like that.
Following one Employee Council meeting, McBride brought his accomplished
and entertaining act to the Jones Room, and while there werent
too many stuffed shirts around, practically every trick stumped
McBrides biggest fans, though, are the children at the Atlanta
Church of Religious Science, the multicultural and nondenominational
church to which he and his family belong.
McBride describes the church as the 13th step of 12-step programa
place to blend the spiritual aspect of a persons life with
their work and relationships. McBride even took four years of classes
to become a minister in the church but stopped short of earning
the title when he learned he would need to attend a final two-week
course in California, followed by a move to another city.
McBride and his wife Leslie, an attorney, have two adopted childrenRebecca,
11, and Ly, 10. As toddlers, the two girls had been in foster care
after their mother died in a car accident and their father was unable
to care for them.
Because they were sisters and social workers did not want to split
them up, they were not easy to place. Thats where McBride
came in. A social worker asked if Bill and Leslie would be interested
in adopting the two girls, they said yes, and shortly after finishing
their adoption training course, they met the girls.
We liked them, and they liked us, McBride said. A week
later, they tried a sleepover. Once we got their stuff and
they moved in, that was it. They never left. That was eight
They really are the loves of our lives right now, McBride
said. Hopefully theyll get to go to Emory someday.