By Charissa Roberson
At the start of July, Roanoke College’s 11th president officially retired from service. Michael Maxey, who had served at the college for four decades in various roles, and his wife Terri concluded their final days in office with much celebration, emotion and honor. President Maxey contributed to RC and the surrounding community in numerous and distinguished ways, which have been recounted in many newspapers and speeches over the past months. This article is simpler. As a recent RC graduate whose four years coincided with the Maxeys’ last four years in office, I would like to offer a brief testimony to the personal ways they impacted our community.
Almost every day, we students saw a small, white-haired man walking around campus, hand in hand with his wife, always wearing a bowtie and a smile. If you didn’t know him, you might not ever guess he was the president of our college. He didn’t draw attention to himself or walk about with pomp and ceremony. Instead, he and his wife ate meals at the cafeteria and did workouts in the gym, side by side with students. If you ran into President Maxey on one of his many strolls across campus, he always slowed his steps. Extended a hand to shake yours. Asked how your week and your studies were going. You’d be surprised to realize he remembered your name and the last time you talked.
This attentive care toward all students was what defined Maxey’s tenure. He would learn the names of every incoming class so that he could connect with them better. He was always eager to attend student performances and presentations, learn about their accomplishments and get to know them as people. Before his retirement, Maxey met with a representative of the student newspaper to give an “exit interview.” As he and the student reporter sat on the patio, each holding microphones, Maxey said that the best part of his time at Roanoke was getting to know the students and watching them grow. His voice trembled as he shared how much he would miss that.
The Maxeys were (and remain) beloved in a way that is uncommon today. I have yet to hear a disparaging word toward this couple, even when the college was going through difficult times. In the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Maxey’s messages were full of honesty, hope and determination. His desire to make the best decision possible, while respecting the wishes of all members of the community, was clearly evident. Unlike many leaders today, the Maxeys served without controversy and seemed unequivocally adored.
Part of me is glad that I graduated alongside the Maxeys: me to a bachelor’s degree, them to a well-deserved retirement. It would be difficult to picture RC without them. However, I know that they are leaving the college in good hands with Frank Shushok, the newly inducted 12th president. As RC moves forward, the Maxeys’ legacy will continue to be a deep-rooted part of the college’s history and identity. I am grateful to have studied under their leadership and to take the lessons they have taught me into the next stage of my life.