Winthrop’s Bigham: Comstock ‘a special choice’ for university president

03/09/2013 12:00 AM

07/05/2014 8:04 PM

Winthrop University will soon make a transition it hasn’t faced in 24 years.

The school’s incoming president, Jayne Marie Comstock, will visit Rock Hill on March 21, bringing full circle the university’s search for its next leader nearly one year after President Anthony DiGiorgio announced his retirement.

Responsibility for the search fell primarily on the shoulders of Kathy Bigham, vice chairwoman of the Winthrop Board of Trustees who led a 10-member search committee.

Bigham recently met with The Herald to discuss her leadership at Winthrop and Comstock’s selection.

Her views on her time as a board member and Winthrop alumnae?

“When I think about Winthrop and my family’s relationship to the university, it has just always been a part of our lives. I had another year (left) at Winthrop when I got married in 1972 and so Larry became involved as a Citadel grad early on because he had a wife that was a student. And from there it just evolved.”

Winthrop is “just a part of who we are. It’s just woven into our lives

“We attend events and try to support our teams. It was very exciting to be at the first inaugural women’s lacrosse game (in February).”

Her thoughts on the recession and the state budget cuts that hit Winthrop and other universities.

“These were challenging economic times for our nation and state. As budgets were cut and difficult decisions made, I was so proud of our Winthrop family. Dr. DiGiorgio’s steady guidance led us through furlough days and funding challenges, but our administration, faculty and staff made certain our students’ college experience was not impacted. As I ended my last meeting as board chair, I became emotional as I thanked our president, fellow trustees and the faculty and staff for their support. Their constant loyalty and love for Winthrop University is what distinguishes Winthrop as one of the best.

“Hopefully I made a small contribution to us weathering that storm as best we could.”

Her thoughts on the presidential search and Comstock’s selection.

“When Dr. DiGiorgio told the trustees of his plans to retire, it was a very daunting task ahead of us to try and replace someone who had meant so much, done so much and had been with us for so long.

“I felt like this would be one of the most important things that we do as trustees, ever. And I wanted to make sure that we did it the best that it could be done. Fortunately, I had a great committee – a very strong search committee, very dedicated. Like me, I don’t think they realized what level of hours of commitment it was going to take but they never complained....I just feel very proud of where we are and of the process.

“We had strong candidates; we had very diverse candidates. But I think the community and the campus will come to appreciate the selection that we made in Dr. Comstock.

“She certainly comes with all the academic qualifications. But we listened a lot to the campus community and to the students and to the Rock Hill community at large...and we kept hearing such positive things.

And the referencing that we did – we heard so much about the natural leadership, a team builder, a uniter, and those were the things we felt were critical as we move forward.

“Her excitement level about coming here was important to us. Her sense of love for Winthrop when she stepped on the campus was very evident to all of us. And just feeling that there would be a warmth there for Winthrop – that was needed. But all of our candidates, I think, would have been a good choice – there was just something that made her a special choice.”

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