Robert Gates served our country as the first defense secretary in U. S. history under presidents from both political parties. He has been Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, president of Texas A&M University, was named by Time magazine one of the most influential people of the year in 2007. and by U.S. News & World Report, one of America's Best Leaders.
Gates has now appended his 45 years public service record by becoming the 24th Chancellor of the College of William & Mary College. He is succeeding such world-renowned personalities as Lady Thatcher, former Prime Minister of Great Britain, Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State, and Sandra Day O'Connor, forme Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.
When accepting the nomination to the chancellorship, Gates was quoted saying: "William & Mary is known around the world as an exceptional school which produces up and coming national and world leaders. In addition to an outstanding education, William & Mary instill in its students a sense of duty to community and country. I look forward to doing all that I can to continue and build on these traditions."
How does he intends to do it?
In an interview with the Lake Placid News and The Virginia Gazette, Gates said that sharing his experiences as an undergraduate student at William & Mary, which shaped his life, would be a good way to start.
Indeed, those who knew him in Williamsburg during his student years, such as Thaddeus Tate, Jr. professor emeritus of history at W&M, recalled Gates as an honor student "with a singular dedication to learning."
Wilford Kale, who for many years served as Williamsburg bureau chief of the Richmond Times Dispatch, was a fellow student with Gates. The two participated in the same intensive-study history seminars. Kale remembered Gates as "having superb intelligence, an analytical mind, and strong moral fiber. He was honest, had great intellectual integrity and was very loyal."
The late Bill Guerant, and his wife, Anne, had Gates as dinner guest often at their home. Bill Guerant once recalled, "Bob was a clean-cut young man, very interesting to talk to. .He was above average in everything he did."
In his inaugural speech, Gates made fun of his "not very auspicious" beginnings at William & Mary. He got a "D" in freshman calculus, and said he considered the grade a "gift." But ever since he arrived at W&M as an undergraduate, "I have been fascinated and inspired by the role this small corner of our country has played in shaping the identity and political ethos of the United States of America."
By all indications, Gates intends to transplant many of the lessons he learned at William & Mary to a new generation of students, namely, the value of public service. "You don't have to work for the government to do public service," he said. "There are many other ways for a citizen to serve the country and the people's needs"
Nowadays, every encounter Gates has with the press includes questions relating to Iran's ambition to become a nuclear-armed power.
In a recent interview with John King, on CNN-TV, broadcast from the campus of William & Mary, Gates said that considering the tension in the Strait of Hormuz, the greatest danger of military confrontation between U. S. and Iranian naval forces is the lack of communication.
"We just don't know whom to talk to and any confrontation could escalate out of hand," he said.
I asked Gates whether he would accept an assignment from the president to help open a hot line with Tehran, as it was established with Moscow, during the height of the Cold War.
"No, I wouldn't," Gates replied in his customary tell-it-is-as-it-is, way. I asked him, "Why?"
"Going to Tehran for me," he replied with a grin," would be a one-way ticket."
Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette.