August 4, 2003

Wagner's big day filled with activity

Eric Rangus

More than 300 faculty, staff and students mingled outside the Dobbs Center with new President Jim Wagner and his family Wednesday afternoon, July 30. It was Wagner’s first public appearance on campus after being introduced as the University’s 19th president at a press conference earlier in the day.

Ben Johnson, chair of the Board of Trustees (BOT) and of the Presidential Search Committee, which selected Wagner after sifting through more than 150 names, presented Wagner to warm applause.

“I can’t tell you how special that is,” said Wagner, who was described as personable and approachable by everyone who met him that day. “Actually, I will tell you. It feels special because the real excitement of coming here is who and what Emory is. You are who and what Emory is—the faculty, staff and students.”

If Wagner was nervous or uncomfortable, it didn’t show. Following a nasty morning storm, the afternoon was hot and muggy, yet Wagner never stopped smiling, never took off his blue blazer and not a single bead of sweat was visible on his face.

He shook hands and chatted with anybody within arm’s length. The vast majority of attendees had only heard about the event that morning when they read a campuswide e-mail sent out by University Secretary Gary Hauk the previous evening (accompanied by a notice on the home page) inviting everyone to greet the new president—but not naming him. For many who came out, the first time they heard Wagner’s name was when Johnson spoke it.

In his brief comments, Wagner issued a challenge to the members of his new community. “Emory has a calling to be more,” he said. “Not just a leader, but a leader of leaders. Is this a place where students and faculty want to come, and where staff are proud to work? The way we will make progress is by striking the right balance between continuity and change.”

Those on hand took advantage of the opportunity to give Wagner a few suggestions as he takes office. “Make sure you are good to the staff,; that’s very important,” said Maggie Stephens, office manager in sociology and an Emory employee for more than 30 years, on what she said to Wagner upon meeting him. “And I invited him to come over to Tarbutton [Hall] to meet everyone in political science and sociology.”

The defining emotions of the event were excitement, happiness and gratitude. “I feel wonderfully privileged to be asked to serve Emory in the capacity of the 19th president,” said Wagner, who was accompanied by his wife, Debbie, and daughters Kimberly and Christine. The events of the day were a mini-family reunion of sorts—Wagner’s parents, Bob and Bernice, live in Stone Mountain and sat up front, as well.

Debbie and Christine, who will be a senior in high school this fall, will live in Cleveland until the end of the school year. Kimberly is a rising junior at Miami University (Ohio) and will return for the fall semester later this month. The new president said he will be doing a lot of commuting at the beginning of his term.

The Dobbs Center meet and greet was the midpoint of what was a full day for Wagner, who arrived in Atlanta with his family the previous morning. Earlier in the day, at the Emory Conference Center, the BOT met and officially named Wagner as Emory’s new president, and Wagner attended the second half of that meeting, which was followed by a press conference at the conference center.

“The enthusiasm at Emory today can’t be measured,” said Johnson upon introducing Wagner in the center’s club room—his first public appearance as president. “I’ve never been convinced of anything more in my life than Jim Wagner being the best president Emory University could have.”

Meeting with the media was one of Wagner’s important tasks during the day. After the conference came lunch—one of Wagner’s meal companions was an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter. Then he sat with Emory Wheel editor Arielle Kass for 45 minutes. Following the interviews, the wider community was turned loose at the Dobbs Center. Then came a reception at the conference center with members of the administrative council and their spouses.

Dinner with the trustees and their spouses closed the evening. President Wagner and his family flew Thursday morning to Cleveland —their home for just a bit longer.