MY WASHINGTON — Summer 2006
   

 

Continuing a Family Tradition of Service

Georgia Van Cleve, A.B. '51, and her family have been a vital part of Washington University for three generations. Fellow alumni include her parents; her two sisters; her late husband Bill, J.D. '53; their oldest son Peter, J.D. '86; and assorted nieces, nephews, and in-laws.

In the words of Chancellor Emeritus William Danforth: "Georgia and Bill Van Cleve have been one of the great couples of Washington University. They have given generously of their time, energy, and resources to their university. They attended innumerable activities and made countless friends. Bill chaired the Board of Trustees and the search committee for the chancellor. Georgia serves on the National Council for Arts & Sciences. Neither the University nor my wife and I have had better friends; they have set an example for us all."

Connecting to a commuter campus

Georgia Hess Dunbar grew up in St. Louis and was president of her senior class at Mary Institute. For her 50th college reunion, she wrote, "Washington University was always part of my life. My parents met at the Freshman Mixer in the fall of 1915, and their romance flourished along with my mother's lifelong love of reading and writing and my father's interest in fairness, justice, and the law. As little children, we were taken to homecoming parades and the 4th of July fireworks on the campus, and my sisters were married in Graham Chapel."

Like most of her classmates, Georgia lived at home while attending college, and she walked to school. "Because so few students lived on campus in those days, we didn't have the sense of community there is today," she recalls. She pledged Pi Beta Phi and served as president of the Panhellenic Association. She says: "I was interested in so many things. I kept wondering what I wanted to be when I grew up! I really enjoyed the basic program of study, which was new at that time.

"In my senior year, the two courses I most wanted to take--philosophy with Huston Smith and a special course on Shakespeare--were offered at the same time. Instead of choosing between them, I hastily decided to take advantage of the '3/3 Program' and go directly to law school." She continues: "My father was a lawyer, and my sister Martha graduated from the School of Law in 1950. It was quite a shock to walk in the first day and discover I was the only girl in a class of 60."

Georgia completed the first year of law school and left after earning her undergraduate degree. She married her classmate William Van Cleve in 1953, following his law school graduation, and she attended secretarial school and worked at Fort Bliss, Texas, while Bill was there serving in the Army. When they returned to St. Louis, she worked at the School of Law as a secretary to Professor William Jones, the assistant dean.

Bill Van Cleve grew up in Moberly, Missouri, where his father owned the Moberly Monitor-Index. Bill graduated from Phillips Academy and Princeton University. At the Washington University School of Law, he served as president of the student body. He joined Bryan, Cave, McPheeters & McRoberts in 1958 as the 13th lawyer at the 85-year-old firm, which was renamed Bryan Cave in 1992. He became the firm's first managing partner in 1973 and was elected chairman in 1988. Under his leadership, Bryan Cave grew into one of the nation's largest law firms, with a diversified national and international practice. Today the firm has more than 800 lawyers in 13 offices across the United States and abroad.

Setting the highest example

Bill, who died in 2003, and Georgia were extraordinarily generous with their time and support for Washington University. Georgia is a longtime member of the National Council for Arts & Sciences and served as chair for her 50th and 55th reunions, for which she received the Frank Bush Leadership Award. Bill was elected to the Board of Trustees in 1983 and served as chair from 1993-95. He headed the search committee for Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton, was the founding chair of the School of Law National Council, and was president of the William Greenleaf Eliot Society. In 1992, he received the School of Law's Distinguished Alumni Award, and in 1996, he was honored with the Eliot Society's "Search" Award. The University presented him with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 2001.

In Arts & Sciences, the Van Cleves endowed the Dunbar-Van Cleve Professorship, held by John R. Bowen, and the Virginia Storer Scholarship, named for a dedicated teacher who taught all four of their children. At the School of Law, Bill and Georgia endowed the Dunbar Family Scholarship. The William M. Van Cleve Professorship, held by Jane Harris Aiken, was endowed in Bill's memory with gifts from Emerson and friends honoring Bill's service as a director of Emerson. Memorial gifts by family and friends endowed the William M. Van Cleve Scholarship.

Edward S. Macias, executive vice chancellor, dean of Arts & Sciences, and the Barbara and David Thomas Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences, says: "Georgia has been one of the most loyal friends of Arts & Sciences and the University. We are stronger for her generosity and involvement."

Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton concurs. He says, "Great people like Georgia Van Cleve contribute to the wonderful traditions of Washington University and assure a bright future for generations of students to come."

For her 50th Reunion, Georgia wrote: "My real appreciation of Washington University and its significance worldwide came from our travels with Bill and Ibby Danforth. We visited Greece in 1972, China and Hong Kong in 1982, India in 1987, and Russia in 1989. We were warmly welcomed by alumni and admiring heads of educational institutions everywhere we went."

In addition to her tireless activities on behalf of the University, Georgia has been active in the St. Louis community. She volunteered for Mid-Town West Meals-on-Wheels for 30 years. An active member and former president of the Ladue Garden Club, she served on the national board of the Garden Club of America. She also served on the board of the Scholarship Foundation, and she is a member of St. Peter's Episcopal Church. She now has nine grandchildren.

It seems especially appropriate that Georgia helped acquire a statue of George Washington (at left) as part of Washington University's 150th anniversary celebration. In 1950, as she was passing the spot where the statue stands today, she saw two of her first-year law school classmates walking ahead. She called out to the one she knew, "Hello, Bill!" Both men turned around, and she was introduced to her future husband, Bill Van Cleve.

In 2004, the handsome bronze reproduction of Houdon's 1788 marble sculpture of Washington was installed at the entrance to Olin Library in memory of William Van Cleve.

--Susan Wooleyhan Caine