January 4, 2012
By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer
The way New College Institute board Chairman Rob Spilman sees it, NCI might not even exist were it not for state Sen. William C. Wampler Jr., who was named NCI’s new executive director Tuesday.
In an interview, Spilman said at a critical juncture in 2006 when the General Assembly was considering providing startup funds for NCI, “a lot of delegates and senators didn’t think that was a great thing to do” with the commonwealth’s money.
Wampler arranged for Spilman and a lobbyist to meet with then-Sen. John Chichester, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
They made their case, and the politically powerful Chichester said he would support funding for NCI, Spilman said. Then Chichester paused and warned them not to come back in five years asking for money for a football team, Spilman added.
The General Assembly then approved more than $2 million for NCI, he said.
Wampler, too, has been a powerful force in the legislature.
Wampler, who is leaving the Senate after 24 years, is the Senate’s senior ranking member of the Republican Party and played a key role in crafting the state budget as a member of the Budget Conference Committee since 1997, according to an NCI news release. He also has served on the Senate Finance Committee since 1991 and the Education Subcommittee since 1996. He chaired the Committee on Commerce and Labor for eight years and recently served on Gov. Bob McDonnell’s Commission on Higher Education Reform.
Had he remained in the Senate, he probably would have been Senate president pro tempore and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Wampler said. But it was time to do something else, he said.
“If you believe in a citizen legislature, there is nothing wrong with saying it’s time to do something else. Twenty-four years was long enough,” he added.
In a June 3 news release, McDonnell said Wampler “has represented the people of Southwest Virginia with character and conviction. ... His commitment to his constituents gave the residents of the 40th District a strong and clear voice in state government, and that voice was respected, well-regarded and incredibly effective. And, William was not just a voice for Southwest Virginia. Through his service on the Budget Conference Committee, William consistently advocated for the best interests of the entire commonwealth. During this past legislative session, he was one of the chief patrons of our historic transportation funding plan. ... We will miss William’s leadership in Richmond. His public service has left Virginia a better place than he found it. ...”
Wampler, 52, of Bristol, said, “I think I burned up 16 cars” traveling throughout the large district he represented and traveling to Richmond during his years in the General Assembly.
In the NCI news release Tuesday, McDonnell praised Wampler for “strengthening opportunities in higher education throughout Virginia while being a strong partner in creating jobs. ...”
Wampler said one of the biggest achievements in education during his years in the legislature is McDonnell’s priority on higher education.
He was referring to McDonnell’s proposed new higher education funding package, unveiled in December, which includes $100 million per year to prepare Virginians for top jobs, boost job-creating research and innovation, make college degrees more affordable for students, and advance his goal of having 100,000 more Virginians earn degrees in the next 15 years.
At the NCI board meeting Tuesday, Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, gave an example of Wampler’s work on behalf of higher education, health and economic development in Southwest and Southside Virginia through the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Committee. Marshall and Wampler both serve on the tobacco commission and its special projects/innovation committee, of which Wampler is chairman. The committee helps attract business and industry to southern Virginia, including Henry County and Martinsville.
Marshall referred to a project for King College in Abingdon and said he could foresee exciting things happening here, too. According to a King College news release and news media reports, the tobacco commission provided a grant match of $25 million for the development of a medical school in Abingdon.
Wampler said he will try to use his contacts where possible to help NCI, but, “I’m hanging up my political spurs on Wednesday (Jan. 11).” He did not seek re-election.
“I got along with my Democratic colleagues just as well as my Republican colleagues,” he added.
U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va., said in a statement Tuesday: “This is an excellent selection for NCI. When I was governor, I was proud to work with the General Assembly to commit the first-ever state funding to launch NCI back in 2005. And Sen. Wampler was an excellent partner as we worked together on economic and educational opportunities for every region of Virginia.”
“NCI already is playing a key role in refocusing the economy of Martinsville, Henry County and the Southside Virginia region, and William Wampler will bring the energy, experience and statewide contacts to take it to the next level,” Warner stated.
Wampler said his family has a history of public service. According to Wampler and news media reports, his father, William Wampler Sr., represented Southwest Virginia in Congress, and his grandfather, Howard Baker Sr., represented Tennessee in Congress. Wampler Jr.’s uncle, Howard Baker Jr., was a U.S. senator from Tennessee who served as minority leader and majority leader; unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for president in 1980; and served as chief of staff to President Reagan, according to a congressional website.
“Public service is something we are interested in. It’s an honorable profession,” Wampler said, adding that he considers his position at NCI a continuation of his public service.
Wampler said as far as he knows, he is not related to the Wamplers of Pulaski Furniture.
Wampler’s salary as NCI executive director will be about $170,000, the same as Dr. Barry Dorsey, NCI’s first executive director, who retired Jan. 1. The pay is set by state statute.
Wampler said he and his wife, Mary, plan to move to Martinsville/Henry County as soon as possible, with their dogs, Bailey, a chocolate Labrador, and Jefferson, a Jack Russell terrier. Mary is retiring from being a paralegal for 30 years, he said.
The Wamplers have two children, Mary Katherine, 23, who is studying at Nova University in Jacksonville, Fla., to be a physician assistant; and Will, 20, a junior at the University of South Carolina.
Wampler received a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Tennessee in 1981; was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army in 1981; and served three years of active duty at Fort Knox, Ky., including his last assignment as commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 4th Brigade. He retired in 2002 as a colonel in the Army Reserve, where he was recognized with many service awards, according to his résumé and the NCI news release. His last assignment was as commander of the 2nd Brigade, with its headquarters in Salem.
His business associations include Wampler Consulting Group LLC, WB LLC and WTX LLC, which involve energy and general consulting, according to his résumé. He also is on the board of directors of Bassett Furniture Industries.
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