Each year The Bishop James Madison Society, whose members are unknown, honors a departing professor or staff member with an exceptional reputation for service to the University and beyond. On Wednesday April 24th, Professor William Stauffer will deliver his Final Lecture, “Reflections on the Journey” in the Great Hall of the historic Wren Building from 4-5 p.m. He will be addressing “memorable attributes of great lives as viewed from the lens of courtrooms and boardrooms across the country and the classrooms of America’s 2nd oldest university”—your alma mater!
Retirement is a pivotal moment in every life. For some it is met with apprehension, regret, resistance. For Bill, Clinical Associate Professor for Business Law at William & Mary, it is a time to appreciate personal and professional achievements -- to pay thanks to all those who supported and mentored him throughout his life.
“I am tremendously honored and grateful for being selected to deliver the Final Lecture. I hope everyone who comes will enjoy themselves – and all are welcome!”
Bill has been happily married for 48 years to the woman he met in 7th grade, Sharon. He is the father of a son and two daughters ranging in age from 36-44, as well as six grandchildren. [Family is] “the most important thing in my life.” Two of his children live in Williamsburg, Virginia.
On the professional front, Bill has had two successful careers. For 35 years, he was a trial lawyer practicing in Northern Virginia and the D.C. area. He served as a managing partner and office managing partner. His specialties were finance and real estate litigation.
In 2008 he and Sharon moved to Williamsburg. Bill joined the Williams Mullen Law Firm. A year later, he entered his second career in the realm of academia.
Nine years ago, Bill began teaching one undergraduate class as an adjunct for the Raymond A. Mason School of Business. “I thoroughly loved it from day one.” Bill attributes his passion and success for teaching to his ten years as a Sunday School teacher for teenagers. He knows how to take material and apply it to everyday situations thus holding his students’ interest. His first class compromised about 60 students. Bill said to himself, “I’ll see how it goes. It was a new chapter in my life. I became more effective when I took advice from others, especially my family, about ‘what the students needed’ and not what I thought they needed. It turns out what students need above all else is someone who has their back and best interests at heart, especially in finding a job.”
Bill changed from partner to “of council” in 2014 to afford more time for teaching. Over the course of the next three years, he phased out from being an attorney in the active practice of law. He was named to the 2015 class of "Leaders in the Law" by Virginia Lawyers Weekly out of a pool of some 30,000 candidates. Bill is genuinely humble but honest when he recounts what a noteworthy recognition this represented for him among others. He has been highlighted by Virginia Business magazine on multiple occasions as one of the state’s “Legal Elite” for civil litigation. The Best Lawyers in America® recognized Bill as a top lawyer in the area of commercial litigation every year since 2008. In 2014, Best Lawyers® named him Norfolk’s “Lawyer of the Year” for Litigation – Banking & Finance.
When it comes to teaching, from the start Bill made the decision to sit down and personally meet with every undergraduate student he taught. He has an index of personal summaries for each of them which will be available long after his retirement. The summaries aid him in helping students achieve their goals. He is delighted when a former student contacts him years later to tell him how something they learned in class proved an asset. Also, he never requires that the students taking his class(es) be enrolled in the Business School. Undergraduates throughout William & Mary have always been encouraged to take one of his courses if they so desire, or simply to meet with him. Bill upholds standards and manners. He never teaches without a suit on and addresses each student as Mr. or Ms. He requires them to practice their handwriting skills, too. Bill discovered early on, during his first lectures, that students are “glad when the instructor isn’t trying to be their best friend.” Formality is important. It establishes an expectation of professionalism for students.
Q: Bill, what has surprised you most throughout your two careers?
A: “I didn’t realize how hard lawyers and judges work until I became one. It is amazing how much judges work and they’re generally underpaid. I was pleasantly surprised when I watched a businesswoman or man make a decision that was ethically right, but not necessarily in their best interest short term…I was pleased to see people do that, always.” In the field of academia, having listened to many bemoan the work ethics of millennials, I don’t know who they’re talking about, but my 268 undergrad students this academic year I would stack up against anybody in the world for hard work, high moral character, willingness to serve others, being polite and positive. It’s astounding. Every semester they seem to get better and it’s not because of me,” he laughs. “Both in the legal and academic fields the primary focus needs always to be on the best interests of clients/students. Anything that interferes with this is a distraction from our mission. It’s a disappointment to me when we sometimes lose that focus.”
Q: Who was/is a critical mentor in your life?
A: “That’s easy. I have the world’s best support from my spouse and best friend. She worked to support us while I was going to school. She’s been involved in all critical decisions. The refinement in my life is from her. I’m the driver to get us from A to B. She’s the one who has the style. If not for her, I’d be wearing the same tie for five years,” he smiles. After Sharon, it is Harvey B. Cohen. He will be 89 this year. “He was my mentor for seven years when I was just starting out as an attorney. I received the best education a young lawyer could get from the best lawyer around! I’m very grateful to both my wife and to Harvey. I am also grateful to our three children who have never hesitated to share their advice with me.”
Q: What advice would you give to younger generations for an enduring marriage?
A: “Sharon and I were raised in similar families [with similar values]. We’re both from the Lancaster, PA area. Divorce was an exception to the rule. There are no manuals to marriage. There will be hard times, tiring times. If your attitude is that marriage is like a used tissue to dispose of, then that’s how you’ll treat it. Neither Sharon nor I were raised that way. It’s been a great 48 years.”
Q: What motivates you?
A: “I’m a big believer in competition, even if I’m just competing against myself, and pushing to win, to be the best always, in anything. I don’t know where this comes from. At some point in high school, it kicked in. No matter how small or large the matter, I wanted to be the best prepared, most articulate and persuasive attorney in that room…that meant I had to work harder than others to do it.”
Q: What might someone be surprised to learn about you?
A: “I’m a gardener and love fresh flowers. We grow and can our own vegetables and make bread from scratch. I bake birthday cakes for my grandkids, which they love. I enjoy martial arts, but at my age I don’t see that in the offing,” he laughs. “Oh, I’m also…was…a big rollercoaster rider. Now vertigo is an issue.”
Q: What is a project or accomplishment you consider most significant in your life?
A: “Helping to raise our children to adulthood. It’s the hardest job there is. In my faith and in my life, the most important work you do is ‘within the four walls of your home.’ That’s a quote from my church. There’s no guarantee that even giving it your best will have a happy ending. I am so proud of our three kids. I can list awards, achievements, and I strive for those, but at the end of the day I would rather have the love and respect of my family.”
Q: What will you miss as you enter retirement?
A: “I will miss the daily interaction with students and working with them to achieve their goals. It’s cathartic being able to give this final lecture. I do have plans to teach ‘a class’ in 2020. We’ll see what happens.”
Bill would like to congratulate each of his fellow colleagues who will be retiring with him this year. At the age of 70, it’s a milestone and he is grateful, always, to his wife, children, professional peers, and of course, the students! Sharon says of her husband, “I want to thank the William & Mary students in the Raymond A. Mason School of Business and across campus for giving Bill their support as an educator, not just in the classroom, but in his meetings with them. Bill thrives on knowing that he is guiding them and making a difference in their lives, just as he does as patriarch of our family and home.”