“She gives her heart, her love, her wisdom, and her hope to every student she comes in contact with. I can call her work nothing short of performing everyday miracles, one student at a time.”
Those heartfelt words from Director of Student Life Lisa Wells capture the way many on the Mary Baldwin University campus feel about Lynn Tuggle Gilliland ’80, who will leave her post Friday as director of first year experience. Students, faculty, staff, and friends gathered this week to say their goodbyes to Gilliland, who will soon start a new chapter as vice president for development at Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina .
Attendance at receptions this week to celebrate Gilliland’s tenure reflected the high regard in which the college community holds her. Students dedicated Tuesday’s Senate meeting to “Mrs. G”; sharing photos and stories through both laughter and tears. A common thread was Gilliland’s reputation for distributing chocolate and hugs. For many, she has been not just a trusted advisor, but a shoulder to lean on and a surrogate mother.
“Little did I know that the first person to greet me as a new freshman on campus would soon be my freshman council advisor, my confidant when things got difficult, and — most importantly — my ‘Mary Baldwin mom,'” said Courtney Waugh ’12. “I wish you the best of luck in your new job; you will change their lives forever, just as you have changed ours.”
Senior Caitlyn Henck echoed the sentiment, revealing one of the most valuable lessons she will carry with her. “Lynn would sit me down in her office and remind me to take care of my joy before I can spread joy to others,” Henck said. “Everything I know about being a confident, compassionate changemaker are all things that Lynn Gilliland has taught me.”
“Whenever I felt like giving up, you were always there to remind me to ‘keep calm and carry on.'” “I can never, ever thank you enough,” said Alana Patrick ’12, fighting back tears.
Self-described as Mary Baldwin’s “nuttiest squirrel,” Gilliland has become unofficial documentarian, ambassador, and cheerleader. She’s the Facebook voice of Mary Baldwin’s beloved Gladys the Squirrel and dons the macot’s costume during student orientation. Her omnipresence once generated the senior superlative, “Most Likely to be Lynn Gilliland.” Students on Tuesday presented a plaque to the woman of the hour and announced that a new student leadership award will be established in her name.
“There is nothing you all could have done that would have meant more to me,” Gilliland told her flock. “One of my favorite sayings is ‘We are a part of all we have met,’ and truly, I say to you, you are each a part of me, and I hope I will always be part of you.”
Later that afternoon, President Pamela Fox hosted faculty and staff in her home for a reception in Gilliland’s honor. Fox composed a verbal concerto, capturing the memories and the sentiment of the dozens in attendance.
“Exploring Baldwin, as a first-year student herself, living all the traditions she so loves, leading and rising to SGA president; confidently creating successful careers after graduation; then returning to explore Baldwin anew: who else can say they have explored what it means to be part of the Baldwin DNA more than you,” Fox read.
Gilliland often said she fell in love with Mary Baldwin as soon as she stepped foot on its campus as a teenager attending a summer program and eventually decided to attend college here. As an alumna, she returned in 2000 to serve as alumnae/i director. Most recently, she has assisted students in making the transition from high school to college as the student life director of first year experience .
There are many local residents who will also feel a loss with Gilliland’s departure. The mother of two sons has served in the Rotary Club, Presbyterian Church, and Chamber of Commerce. Her husband, Bill, is a local business coach.
Gilliland’s new post takes her to another place that is dear to her heart. Montreat Conference Center near Asheville, North Carolina, is a popular and scenic retreat affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. (The word “montreat” is a combination of the words “mountain” and “retreat.”)
“We wish you an amazing chapter,” Fox announced in her tribute. “These hills where beauty dwells are forever imprinted in your mind’s eye to give you strength. You know you can always borrow Mary Baldwin from thy yield. This is your college and you have played a big role in what it is today. May the end of all your exploring be to arrive here where you started and know this place for the first time.”