Fran Engoron, W&M Class of 1970
Fran Engoron arrived at William & Mary in 1966. During her time at William & Mary, she participated in the Colonial Echo and intramurals. She was also involved in the Newman Society, Alpha Kappa Delta sociology honor society, the Catholic Student Association, and Gamma Phi Beta.
After graduating in 1970 with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, Engoron rose quickly through the ranks to become Director of Health Services at Doctor’s Hospital, before returning to school at George Washington to earn her Master of Arts in Public Health in 1978. She then moved into consulting, first at Ernst & Young, and then at Price Waterhouse, making partner within seven years. She was the first woman appointed to PW’s national leadership team.
In her interview, Engoron reflects on being drawn to the history of the William & Mary as well as the opportunity for a coeducational experience at a time when few universities in the state offered it. Engoron’s recollection of college is filled with anecdotes about evading curfew and protesting dress and social rules and regulations. She still remains close to her sorority sisters, reuniting with several of them annually, stating, “We were pretty innocent when we arrived on campus. And so we all grew up into adults together. And we just had great fun.” Overall, she sees her William & Mary education as having prepared her for her career trajectory, giving her “confidence that I could, in fact, do anything I wanted to.”
William & Mary
Interviewee: Fran Engoron
Interviewer: Carmen Bolt
Interview Date: May 19, 2017 Duration: 1:07:09
Carmen: My name is Carmen Bolt. I’m the oral historian at William & Mary. It is currently around 11:00 on May 19, 2017. I’m sitting in the advancement office in New York City with Fran Engoron. Could you start by telling me the date and place of your birth?
Fran: I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1948, August 27th. My parents met during World War II. My mother was a nurse. My dad actually was at Hickam Field, which was the air field right next to Pearl Harbor, when it was bombed, so both of them had quite adventuresome lives before they married. And luckily they met each other in Hawaii and I was one of the results of that.
Carmen: Wow. Did you grow up in Hawaii?
Fran: Just for two years, so clearly I didn’t remember. My brother was also born there and then I have two other sisters that were born in Washington, D.C. So my dad was transferred from Hawaii to the Pentagon when the Korean War broke out.
Carmen: Okay. Because one of my questions was going to be how on earth did you find your way to William & Mary from Hawaii.
Fran: Yeah, no, it wasn’t. And of course I’ve visited Hawaii since then, and even though I don’t remember it, I was so little, my parents just loved Hawaii, and they talked about it a lot, and showed us—we have lots of pictures, so it still has a really warm place in my heart.
Carmen: I’m sure. That’s incredible. So they moved to…
Fran: To actually Virginia. We lived in Arlington, Virginia originally and then in Fairfax and then Vienna. And my dad, as I said, worked in the Pentagon. He was a civilian, but working in the Pentagon.
Carmen: When did you start thinking about college? Was this something that your family encouraged?
Fran: Yes. You know, I think they, like many parents, and certainly today as well as then, they really encouraged us to achieve and particularly achieve academically. We probably weren’t as busy as kids are today in terms of, you know, lots of extracurricular activities when you’re in even primary school and high school. So I was a good student, I did well.
And I looked at schools. My mother actually wanted me to go to St. Mary’s of Notre Dame because she was Catholic and she just thought that was the epitome for girls. And the fact that it was a girls school ruled it out right away, so I didn’t even apply to St. Mary’s of Notre Dame, much to her regret.
But I did apply to William & Mary, and early decision, and I got in. And it was one of the happiest days of my life. I remember getting the letter and opening it and just being incredibly excited. And it was just one of those kind of things where you wish for it. You aren’t sure it’s going to happen because even in those days admissions were pretty restrictive, particularly from Northern Virginia.
00:03:03 It was very competitive because they tried to balance out, obviously, across the state and out of state. So it wasn’t a sure thing, even though I was a good student with good grades.
Carmen: So you said you applied early decision. So had you gone and visited William & Mary?
Fran: I had. And I’d been to Williamsburg probably two or three times, more for the historical nature of it, as most kids did in Virginia, obviously. And I’d always had a real interest in history. I always joked—my brother and I, when we would play, he always was Buck Rogers going off to the future and I was always going back to early American history, or Egypt, or Greece. I just, that was kind of my thing.
So Williamsburg just appealed to me on that level. And then the more I learned about William & Mary, and something that wouldn’t be relevant today, but was relevant then, William & Mary was the only coed state school at the time of note.
00:04:01 The University of Virginia only admitted men until about 1968, about two or three years after I started at William & Mary. So my other alternative, if I wanted to stay in state, would have been Mary Washington, which was a fine school, but it was all girls and, you know, just wasn’t very appealing for that reason.
Carmen: So you were looking for coeducation.
Fran: I was looking for coeducation just because I thought that made more sense, you know. It just seemed more normal. And certainly, as I said, Williamsburg was a draw in and of itself.
Carmen: So what years did you attend William & Mary?
Fran: So I entered William & Mary in 1966, graduated in 1970, so I did my four years. And it was, like I’m sure most graduates, a very formative period in my life and very meaningful to me not only then, but now.
Carmen: Do you have a very first memory of William & Mary, what it looked like or smelled like?
Fran: Yeah. I remember my dad took me down with our station wagon filled with, you know, whatever, you know, mostly clothing, obviously, but a few other things. And we arrived at Jefferson Dormitory, and in that little circle that I’m sure you know. And it was chaos, basically, because it was move in day and…for freshmen. We got there about a week earlier for orientation.
And my dad, unfortunately, had had polio as a child, so he could not do steps very well. He certainly could not have, you know, taken stuff up and down those Jefferson steps on his own. So I remember, he was pretty resourceful, though, he saw some strapping young man walk by and he said, would you like to earn a little money today? And would you help my daughter move her things up to Jefferson?
00:05:58 And of course I was on the top floor, third west, so I’m really glad my dad didn’t try to do it. And so I remember that experience, and I remember, as I’m sure you see when you’re on campus, all those beautiful magnolia trees and other things. You know, and coming from—even though I grew up in a suburb of Washington, it was still pretty much an urban environment, so this seemed to me to be very idyllic. And as you say the smells of the evergreens and just kind of the William & Mary…it almost smelled old, too, as you know, especially the old parts like the Wren Building and Jefferson, I think, have even their unique smells.
Carmen: Just like living history.
Fran: Exactly. That’s a great way to put it.
Carmen: So what did you choose to study? It sounds like you were very interested in history.
Fran: I was interested in history, but for whatever reason, I never really considered that as a major. And I pretty quickly lit on sociology. And it was sort of, in some ways, a relatively new discipline in those days. I mean, it wasn’t brand new. There were certainly writings in the early part of the 20th century. But it was relatively new.
And I can remember, because I had sort of a debate with my parents about it. And they were not very interventionist. They kind of said, you know, you can make up your own mind what you want to do. But my dad was very supportive. He thought that kind of matched my personality and my intellect.
My mother, on the other hand, said I really think this is a huge mistake because you’re not going to get a job. You’re going to gradate from college, you’re not going to have a job. You need to major in something where you know you’re going to have a good job. And I think because my parents were Depression era, and particularly my mother, I think, probably really felt that security was super important, that’s the way she felt.
00:07:56 And of course at the time I sided with my dad because he was supporting me anyway, and picked sociology. And I have to say that my mother did get at least an interim last laugh in that she was absolutely right. When I graduated in 1970 I had a horrible time getting a job.
But I have never regretted that major. I think it was the right thing to do at the time and it was also something that I used the skills, sort of the critical thinking, the perspective about how you see patterns and you connect the dots, all those kinds of things are transferrable to almost anything. And that level of conceptual thinking, research, analysis, coming to conclusions, being able to support that with data, all those things really served me very well later.
Carmen: That’s great, absolutely. So in sociology did you have any notable professors?
Fran: I did. And, you know, I’m really…I’ve always been really bad about names. It’s not a middle age thing. I’ve just been bad about names my whole life. And I cannot remember her name, but there was a statistics professor. And she was one of the few women professors, actually, and she was relatively young. She was a fabulous teacher.
And I will tell you I’m not, you know, math was like my least—I was pretty good at it, but it was my least favorite subject, and I kind of equated statistics and math when I took it, but it was definitely a requirement. I didn’t have any way to avoid it. She made it come alive. And it was one of—to this day I still know most of the things she taught me about statistics. I used it in my work. But more importantly, she just took a topic that could have been very boring and made it come alive and really took us all in and made us interested in something that I’m sure walking in we had no interest in.
Carmen: That’s fantastic because there is that old when will I ever use this in my real life, but it sounds like the things she—
Fran: Oh, absolutely. And I think it also just—it doesn’t sound like a fun topic, right? It just doesn’t sound that way. But she was great. And, you know, I had other great professors. One of the other ones I remember specifically, you know, I’ve always said that coming of age in the ‘60s was an incredible gift. It was such a wonderful time to explore new ideas. Things were happening in terms of social, cultural, political change.
And the college, while it certainly wasn’t Berkeley or Harvard in terms of their kind of extreme participation in that almost revolution, it was still a hotbed for ideas and for thinking about what was happening in the country and where we stood on those things. And one of the professors I had was a criminology professor in the sociology department.
00:10:57 And he I remember specifically had—it was a very interesting course in every way, but specifically he shared with us his personal experience trying to balance justice and law and order. And that was a difficult thing for him to do based on his research, etc., and he allowed us into that personal journey that he made, and it was very enlightening. And of course in learning about that it made all of us think where do we stand on those types of issues. And particularly for that time period—maybe it would be relevant today, too, right—but for the ‘60s that was an important thing to be thinking about.
Carmen: Yeah, you’re right. I was going to say that’s still very much relevant.
Fran: It is. It sort of comes and goes. There are periods when things are very calm and people aren’t raising those kinds of issues, but right now, really over the last three or four years at least, I think that’s been a hot issue again.
Carmen: You mentioned that William & Mary, while not like Berkeley, per se, there was some activism going on.
Fran: There was.
Carmen: There was some grappling with these sorts of ideas. Do you mind expanding on that a little more?
Fran: Sure. There were really two aspects to it. And as I said, we really weren’t, I mean, there were not people storming the barricades or burning down buildings, thank heavens. But there were two aspects to it. One was very internal to the college. There were a lot of protests and activism around social rules. They were very restrictive, particularly of women, at the time.
And I have to say that, you know, when you think about it in that period of time, with women’s liberation, etc., the college was really a stick-in-the-mud in terms of that period. And so there was a lot of social unrest on campus over those issues, a lot of protests. And the good news is we won. We actually won on almost everything.
00:13:01 And within that four years we pretty much totally changed the social rules on campus. So that was one small example.
But we were not immune to what was going on outside, outside our little campus. And in fact the issue that I remember most dramatically was the Vietnam War. And while I think we came to it maybe slightly later than some of the other universities, there were definitely demonstrations on campus and through the streets of Williamsburg about the war. I think many of the professors were politically active, and while they didn’t force their ideas on you, and they probably shouldn’t, there were active discussions in classes about those issues.
I think the one set of issues that I saw, coming from…sort of my parents grew up in the North, and Northern Virginia is quite different culturally than Southern Virginia, the one thing I was disappointed in but I learned a lot about was racism.
00:14:02 And in that period in William & Mary I really felt that we were really not making the progress in the way we should. Schools in Virginia were only integrated when I was a senior in high school, so it was very recent. And William & Mary had very few African American students. I mean, literally a handful when I was there. And the culture around Southern Virginia was not very amenable.
And so it was quite an education for me. It was very upsetting to me, in many ways, because some of these people were my friends’ families. But it was important for—it was an important lesson for me to learn, I think, at that time. And I think since then obviously the college has made great progress. But I think that social change was yet to come to that part of Virginia and to the college.
Carmen: Sure. Thinking about those four years you were there, so many things did change, right? The first three female African Americans in residence started during the time you were there. Do you recall ever interacting with any of them or what the reaction to that on campus was?
Fran: I did not have any personal interactions. As I said, it was…they were almost invisible, which is a sad commentary. We did have an instance in our sorority, actually, where there was one African American woman who went through the pledge cycle and it really…I mean, I don’t think my sorority was any different than the others. It basically was a very trying, very difficult set of conversations that we had about that. And I was pretty unhappy, actually, I have to say, with how it played out.
00:16:01 But again, it was a learning experience for me about how hard it is to make social change. And I also learned to really admire the people that are on the forefront of that change. I am sure those first African American women—I don’t know if you’ve interviewed them—but I suspect it was quite a lonely existence for them.
Carmen: Yeah, they have been interviewed, actually. They were interviewed in the past year, which was great that we were able to get their stories.
Fran: Yeah, that is great. And, you know, we were just, as I said, I think we were just basically starting to come to terms in that part of the country with that issue. And it was pretty ugly at times.
Carmen: Sure. And at the same time this was going on, the women’s liberation movement was going on all over the United States and the world. How specifically did you see that play out on campus? Because there were the dress regulations.
Fran: Right, exactly. Well, those were the social rules I referred to. And it ranged everything from incredibly restrictive dress regulations. We couldn’t wear shorts or slacks outside of—even in the lobby of our dorm. Only upstairs could we. Now everybody like had a raincoat they threw over their shorts or something if they had to run out to get a Coke or a sub or whatever.
And then there was the one I really always love to tell people about, which is a woman could not walk through campus smoking a cigarette. You had to sit on a rock if you wanted to smoke a cigarette. [Laughs.] It was pretty unbelievable.
Carmen: Were the men walking around smoking?
Fran: Oh, of course. There were no restrictions on men. Zero restrictions on men. They were all women’s restrictions. And then, of course, women had curfew, and it was a pretty restrictive curfew.
00:18:00 And no men were allowed in dormitories, women’s dorms, above the lobby area. I’m sure—oh, no liquor, of course, in the dormitories. Now I actually contend that we actually had more fun evading some of those rules than if we had had the ability to do anything.
But by the time I graduated, all those rules had gone away, completely gone away, yeah. And it was not because the college president at the time was particularly innovative or progressive, it was because we protested. It was the result of activism on our part saying this is, you know, the time has passed for this kind of thing. But it took that kind of activism to really force that change.
Carmen: Sure. Would you explain some of those ways of skirting the rules?
Fran: Oh, yeah. Well, I mean, not surprisingly, if you’re college kids, right, we would sneak liquor and beer up to the room underneath stuff. We were, at least the group of girls that I was particularly friendly with and still am, we were great bridge players, and so we would sit down and we would get a little food, and then we would crack open, you know, the liquor and have a drink. We had, particularly freshman year, a very kind of commandant kind of style house mother, and she—but she rarely climbed all the way to the third floor, so I think we were doing that.
I also had a good friend who really risked her life to obey the curfew. She was out after curfew, and we had sort of covered for her. She actually climbed one of those big trees outside of Jefferson and threw rocks at the bathroom window. And we came out, and we heard the rocks. You know, we heard—I was right across from the communal bathroom, and I heard these rocks being thrown.
00:20:01 And I came out and there was Kit up in this tree. And she said, open the window, I can make it. And we were like, I don’t think you can make it from that tree to this window. She did. But of course she could have easily fallen and killed herself because we were on the third floor. So that was one of the more creative.
And oh, I have to tell my story, actually, evading the rules. I stayed out. I was with some guy off campus and I got in late. And I thought I was in deep trouble, probably, trying to get back in. And there was an exception when there was a big dance for the people that went to the dance. They could stay out about an hour later. So sure enough, just as we came up to Jefferson, there was—and I can only describe it as a bevy of women in long crinolined gowns—coming across from the campus center across Jamestown Road to campus.
00:20:59 So I immediately saw my way in, and I basically crawled underneath their skirts and came all the way into the lobby and up the stairs underneath the skirts of the women coming in from the dance.
Carmen: That was very creative.
Fran: It was. I was so lucky that these women were coming in an hour later than normal.
Carmen: And you didn’t have to climb any trees.
Fran: And I didn’t have—I don’t think I would have been brave enough to climb a tree, frankly. Or foolish enough, maybe.
Carmen: Well, I’m still impressed by your creativity.
Carmen: So you all were being very creative in ways to get around these rules.
Fran: We were. And I kind of joked. I knew, you know, obviously over time you know people that graduated ten or 15, 20 years later, and they would kind of joke with me, including some colleagues that graduated later from William & Mary, and they’d say, what was it like in the olden times? Because they really could not imagine a time when we had to do those kinds of things or had those restrictions.
00:22:00 And I always said to them—I’d tell them the stories—but then I’d say, you know, those are things I remember and were great fun, and they were bonding experiences, so I don’t really regret that for the first two or three years I was there there were those restrictions. I think we did the right thing to protest them, because if nothing else, they were sexist, right?
Carmen: Definitely. What ways did you protest? Were there letters or petitions, or was it kind of active going—
Fran: It was both. We did have, you know, sort of in the good Williamsburg fashion, kind of proclamations and signatures, etc. on big petitions, and very specific bill of particulars, right, is what they call it in Williamsburg, I think. Bill of particulars to the president of the college. But we also had protests, real physical protests with candlelight vigils and all that good stuff, and speakers.
00:23:00 So we had those things. It was not as…it was serious business as far as the people that participated, I think, and it was largely women because, as I said, it largely affected women, but we had a lot of male students, too, that thought this was silly. Plus, you know, it sort of restricted them, too, because their girlfriends had to go in at 11:00 every night, etc. So it was fairly widespread. And as I said, we actually won. We won. And we should have, of course, on the merits. But I think without those protests and petitions, it would have happened, but it would have happened later.
Carmen: The methods were clearly effective.
Fran: Yes, they were.
Carmen: So kind of broadening out, do you recall, and maybe alongside these sort of rules and regulations you had to work within, do you recall any difficult experiences you had during your time at William & Mary?
Fran: You know, I feel that I, in general, have led kind of a charmed life, and I’m very grateful for that, because I recognize, you know, yes, you can work hard and you can be smart and all those things, but some of what happens to you is luck and being in the right place, right time, having the right parents, having, you know, all sorts of things. And I feel that way about my William & Mary experience. It was generally really positive.
I already mentioned I think—and it really affected me freshman year particularly—I think going from Northern Virginia, which was more cosmopolitan, more liberal, to a very much more conservative and, in those days, unfortunately, racist kind of setting was very, very hard for me. And I can remember, as an example, I went home with one of my friends. And by the way, my friends didn’t seem racist. It was a very interesting thing.
00:24:57 And I don’t know if they just were smart enough not to, you know, not to discuss things that they knew were controversial, but I don’t think so. I think they actually realized that the world was changing, and however they were brought up might not have been what really should be. But I remember going home with a friend. Her brother drove us and he said some really awful things on the drive to this small town in Southern Virginia.
And as we got to her parents’ house she pulled me aside and she said, Fran, I know you’re going to find some things difficult. I can just see it on your face. But I just would ask you to remember you’re a guest in my parents’ home. And I don’t expect you to agree with some of the things they might say, but I would really appreciate it if you not make a big deal out of it.
00:25:52 And that’s the human side of this, to try to figure out how to deal with something that you really don’t…you really feel strongly about, but you realize that you’re in a situation where you certainly are not going to agree with people, but maybe you shouldn’t try to fight. So that was a really…it was a really tough experience, but I sort of have always remembered that in other situations, you know.
I mean, I worked globally with lots of different cultures, lots of different norms and mores, and I’ve always sort of remembered that experience, that you should stand up for what you believe, you should certainly not condone or agree with something that you don’t believe so strongly in, but at the same time you should recognize that you’re in a setting with people that have their strong beliefs as well, whether you, you know, think they’re unethical or not, whatever, and you need to at least take that into account.
00:27:01 So it was…those were tough lessons. Those were really tough lessons. And that’s the main thing. I mean, you know, we…you…most of my experiences were really, really good at William & Mary. I mean, and again, as I said, I feel lucky that they were. I formed relationships.
You know, as a kid, because we moved several times, including mid high school, I didn’t have as many kind of close friends as I might have in a more stable environment, so William & Mary was really the first time for an extended period you were living with people and got to know them and like them, and find your commonalities, find things that you wanted to debate and disagree on, so I formed really great relationships, including, from the very beginning, my orientation group and three west. Those are, you know, best friends for life kind of thing.
00:28:00 And then added, you know, sorority sisters and other people, friends of friends over time. And in fact 11 of us still get together every year. And we’re from different sororities and whatever, but somehow we kind of all stood the test of time. We get together every year. This year it’s going to be Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in the fall. Sometimes it’s Williamsburg.
But about, I don’t know, ten or 15 years ago we said it doesn’t always have to be Williamsburg. So we’ve done Montreal, we’ve done New York, D.C., Colorado, California, so we move it around every year, and it’s great fun. And these are people that, despite all my other relationships in life, other than my family, I would say, are the people that I would go to if I were in real trouble or real need.
00:28:55 As a group, you know, we’ve had a couple spouses die, we’ve had a couple divorces, we’ve had troubled children. And we’ve sort of seen each other through. One of my friends lost her house completely in a fire that burned it down to cinders. And we’ve been there for each other through all those kinds of experiences. And as I said, I have lots of other friends, too, but if I were really in trouble, these are the people I would call.
Carmen: Some really strong bonds were established.
Fran: Yeah, absolutely. And I think, again, it’s probably not unique to William & Mary, but I think William & Mary created a culture and an environment in which that was very possible and encouraged.
Carmen: Will you speak a little bit about maybe some favorite memories you have? It sounds like you might have some.
Fran: Yeah. Well, I have both memories from that time, but also memories since then that are William & Mary memories, if that’s all right.
Fran: So during that time—you know, I think the things that were…that I do remember the most…I do remember, as I said, a few professors that just really left a lasting impression on me. And usually it was because they were both great teachers, but also there was something about them personally and what they shared with you about themselves and their own world view, etc., what they had learned in life.
And I think William & Mary is known for that, is that connection between your teachers and professors and the students is something that’s really wonderful. And so that was…those were really great experiences. I think the other great experiences, though, really are about people. They’re really about, you know, that freshman year, and three west, and all the fun we had.
00:30:57 We didn’t pledge sororities until January, so basically that first semester it was just us. I mean, that was our social group, were those people that we lived with. And it was…I mean, we just had such fun. And we were all sort of growing up together. I think we came into college probably much less skilled and more naïve than kids come today, just judging from my nieces and nephews. For one thing, they’re super well traveled. I mean, most of them have been all over the world already, right, by the time they get to college. And they also are just more street savvy and things like that.
And I think we came in, we were kind of innocents abroad, you know. We were pretty innocent when we arrived on campus. And so we all grew up into adults together. And we just had great fun. I’ve already mentioned all the ways we sort of evaded the rules. I remember all those extremely well. We were a little entrepreneurial.
00:31:58 One friend and I, even though we probably didn’t need to, but we would collect money on the floor and take orders, and we would go to the sandwich shop at night together, because of course, you know, we figured the two of us should go together, and we would always charge enough that we could get free sandwiches and drinks out of the deal. So, you know, just little things like that, that, you know, come and go but are really great memories.
And I think that as I was graduating, I had…I think I had to pause because most of my friends were going to be school teachers, and they had jobs. They were very lucky. 1970 was a very tough year to graduate. We were in a recession. It was considered probably the worst recession until 2008. That’s how bad it was. And so if you didn’t have a job like a teacher, you were probably going to have a tough time, and I did have a tough time.
00:32:59 And it was my William & Mary friends that I lived with that actually helped me out because I scrambled to pay the rent and buy food for at least a year after graduation. I had jobs, but they were really not very attractive jobs. And so that’s the case.
But I also remember the physical beauty of the campus and the town. And I think all of us that return, I quite often, when I go down for foundation board meetings, I quite often go the day before, not because I really need to but because then I get in and I basically walk down Dog Street, walk around campus, go to Crim Dell, go out to Jamestown, just do things that really take in the history and the physical beauty of both the campus and the greater Williamsburg area. So that’s clearly a really super memory.
00:34:00 And then since then I have been really active with the business school for, actually, over 20 years, and that has been extremely rewarding. We’ve done lots of great things, but building the new business school building, I was really involved in that, including working with the architects, etc. And it was just a great experience to, number one, see that we could come together and raised such an incredible amount of money.
I remember when we first looked at it I just shook my head like we’re never going to do this. But come together, raise the money, be able to negotiate with the state and the college to have control over picking the architect, picking the construction firm, and really control over a lot of the design of the building, etc. And then actually going through that process.
00:34:58 And then seeing what a difference it made to the school of business and even to the college as a whole to have this great new building as part of our campus. So that was a very super rewarding, more in the current time.
Carmen: Sure. And I actually want to talk more about your involvement with the business school and your career trajectory, but I just have a couple more questions about your time at William & Mary.
Carmen: When I was doing some research on you, I was going through and I noticed you were quite active in organizations and clubs as a student. I have a little list here, but—
Fran: You may know more than I do.
Carmen: Anything that I’ve forgotten—
Fran: I may have forgotten.
Carmen: Alpha Kappa Delta, and I believe that had to do with sociology.
Carmen: The Colonial Echo, Gamma Phi Beta, the Newman Society, intramurals, College Student Association. And you were making the dean’s list while all this was going on. So what motivated you to be so engaged in all these activities?
Fran: Well, you know, I think part of it is, and it’s one of the beauties of William & Mary, it’s a wonder they can manage this, because they attract leaders, basically. You know, it was hard to get in, and even in those days it wasn’t just about your SAT scores and your GPA. They really wanted to know that you were well rounded, that you were really a great candidate for a great liberal arts college. And so there was no shortage of leadership skills among the people that attended.
And I think many of us obviously looked for opportunities to both demonstrate those skills and grow those skills while we were on campus. And I actually felt, to be honest, that I was much more of a dabbler, you know. I was having a great time socially, as I mentioned, and, you know, having fun. My sorority was really a good experience, generally. It was a super experience.
00:36:54 So I really wanted to balance—I knew I wanted to make good grades, obviously, but I wanted to balance that with having other experiences as part of the school. So I have to say, on the organizational side, I really was more of a dabbler. With the exception of the sorority. I was the vice president senior year. I always raised my hand when there was something that needed to be done, etc. So I think I was a little more focused on leadership there.
But again, I think that the college afforded you many opportunities to both demonstrate and hone your leadership skills, which is great, because that is, I think, one of the hallmarks of William & Mary and the people that come from William & Mary. I think when you talk to—which I have done as part of the business school—talk to recruiters, they always mention that, that the William & Mary students they interview, just kind of from the get-go, demonstrate those kind of skills and experiences.
Carmen: It sounds like they’ve served you well as you’ve moved forward in your life as well.
Fran: Yeah, for sure.
Carmen: That’s one of the questions I have. So your trajectory following William & Mary, you said you struggled that first year to find a job.
Fran: Mm-hmm. Absolutely. I mean, you know, I… In fact the funniest job I had was—in fact I think it was the first one—I was frying fish in a fish restaurant, because that was the best job I could get. And I had to get a job to pay the rent. In those days we did not consider moving home, for lots of reasons. There was quite a generation gap, even if you had great parents, and I did.
Number two, I just wasn’t going to ask them for money. They had put me through school. I didn’t have to work except summers. I just, a matter of personal pride, I wasn’t going to ask them for any money. So I felt an obligation. I had two William & Mary roommates that were school teachers, and they kind of said, you know, if you can’t pay the rent this month, you know, we’ll kind of make up and we’ll keep track.
00:39:02 But, you know, I didn’t want to do that. So I had a series of really awful jobs for about a year. But I did pay the rent, usually, and on time. I did buy my share of the food, etc. I didn’t do much else. I didn’t have a car.
And then I got a job, and it was much better than frying fish, but it wasn’t a great job. I got a job in a hospital, and I was basically…it was an administrative, clerical job in the admitting office. And I did, you know, because I was kind of taught you do a good job of any job you have, even if it’s not a really fabulous one. I was even pretty good at frying fish.
And so I went on vacation, I remember. In fact I think it was…I went to Europe. And I had actually taken some unpaid leave to go to Europe, and I was a little afraid I was going to lose this job. I had been there about a year.
00:40:00 But when I came back, surprise, surprise, not only had I not lost my job, they promoted me to be head of the department. It was one of the funniest things that ever happened to me. There was a battleax old nurse that ran this department, and during my absence—[laughs]—they had decided to force her to retire.
And the director of nursing at this hospital knew me, had interacted with me quite a bit, and she proposed to the administrator of the hospital not to go out and hire anybody, but she said, you know, I think Fran can do this. She’s young, but she’s been here about a year and she seems good, and let’s give her a try, and let’s all help her succeed. So I was, you know, luck again plays a role.
Carmen: You go to Europe and receive a promotion.
Fran: Yeah. So basically they gave me that great promotion, much to my surprise. I learned a lot on the job. I was 23 years old. I had about 25 people working for me, all of whom were older than I was, most of whom were much more experienced than I was.
00:41:08 So it was quite a learning experience. I kind of joke that I made all my management mistakes in those next three years, so those poor people, you know, had to suffer through that. But I learned a lot. I grew. I learned pretty quickly, actually.
And decided I wanted—actually, the administrator of the hospital was a great coach. He said to me, after a few years, he said Fran, I really don’t want to lose you as an employee, but you could do anything here, because I know you could do it, but you can’t necessarily do that as a career. You really should go to grad school.
And so I took his advice. I looked at several grad schools and ended up going to George Washington University. Got a master’s in healthcare administration, and decided, though, while I was there—it was basically a two year program. I did it in about a year and a half full-time.
00:42:04 And decided, while I was there, though, that I really didn’t want to go back into a hospital again. I’d sort of been there, done that. And while it was very interesting and I learned a lot, it wasn’t what I wanted to do. And I had a social friend who worked, at the time, for Ernst & Young, the accounting consulting firm, and he offered me—I had to do an internship, and he offered me an internship, which I said great. It was paid, it was interesting work. So for three months I worked for them.
And I had a semester left of school, and they offered me a job afterwards. And I said I really appreciate that, and I’d had a good experience, but this is a big decision after grad school, I think I should kind of look at the waterfront. And a good friend of mine, a sorority sister, in fact, her sister worked at Price Waterhouse, and she said if you’re looking at firms like that, you have to interview here.
00:42:59 So she got me an interview with the head of consulting, and kind of that was history then, because I just really felt a kinship with the firm. Never regretted it. Turned down the Ernst & Young offer and a couple other offers I had and went to work for Price Waterhouse as a consultant.
And then, you know, was lucky enough to make partner after, I guess, about…let’s see, I should know this exactly, six and a half, seven years. And then had a really wonderful experience as a partner as well because in addition to, you know, working in my specialty initially, I was able—we actually got rid of that specialty for a while. It’s now back, but at the time. And I was lucky enough that they gave me an option of whether I wanted to stay with the firm and really reinvent myself or whether I wanted to leave and pursue healthcare.
00:43:59 And I had been in the healthcare business one way or another for really close to 20 years at that point. But I decided I cared more about being with the firm than the industry, and so that was a difficult both decision and transition, to some extent, but I made it, and I made it successfully.
And what it did was open up a whole new world for me because I one, knew I could reinvent myself, and that actually real positive things came out of that, and number two, it gave me another set of skills, relationships, etc. in the firm. So that sort of led me, kind of put me on a different path and that path turned out to be great because I had lots of other interesting roles.
I ended up—I always said my toughest client was the firm itself, so I felt when I did projects that weren’t with the client and jobs that weren’t with the client for the firm, that I still treated them as if they were a client.
00:45:07 And the same skills that I used, and the same types of knowledge that I used for client consulting I sort of applied to the firm. So I got to do a lot of very innovative work. It was very well received both inside the firm, but also externally. So I was in “Fortune” magazine, then the “Wall Street Journal,” and all the accountancy journals, all that kind of good stuff.
So there was kind of a heady period there in the ‘90s, basically, where everything sort of came together. You know, there’s points in your career where just all that hard work, all the working weekends and nights, and all the seeming sacrifices, at the time, kind of come together and bear fruit, and it did during that period.
Carmen: Absolutely. And I have here that you were the first woman appointed to Price Waterhouse’s 19 member national leadership team.
Fran: Yeah, right.
Carmen: That’s incredible.
Fran: Yeah, I did both the U.S. and global leadership teams. Worked for a great CEO, Jim Schiro. And yeah, it was great. It was just really great. And it was both intellectually and emotionally very challenging. Those jobs are tough jobs, for a lot of different reasons. But at the same time it was wonderful.
And of course as one of my colleagues said, in some ways you also bear the burden of your category, is what she used to say. So because I was the first woman on those leadership teams, I felt a special obligation, I guess, to both perform well and be respected, but also to help other women, and to be not just a role model, which was nice, obviously, but also to really work on things that I thought were going to be helpful, both at the micro level, so support other women leaders, but also at a macro level.
00:47:01 What about our, you know, what about some of our other policies and practices. One of the things that I did and I’m really proud of was I was the first woman on our partnership admissions committee, which is a really important thing in a partnership. That’s kind of the key point where somebody’s worked, in some cases, for 12 or 13 years, and they’re up for partner, and not everybody makes it. You know, maybe 50% of them make partner.
And as I said, being the first woman on that committee, I felt a really strong responsibility to ensure that women candidates, first of all, that we had a pipeline of women candidates and that women candidates were absolutely fairly treated in the process. It wasn’t that hard because my colleagues were really good about it. But that, to me, was a serious responsibility.
Carmen: That’s fantastic, and inspirational, honestly.
Fran: Yeah, it was nice. And there were other things. One of the last things I did, actually, was I created a program for young partners to go basically two to three years after they had been admitted to the partnership to really get a personal executive coach, do a bunch of experiences and tests to kind of help them understand better and get coached on where their strengths were, where maybe some of their issues were, and then have really a series of things, interventions, if you will, that would help them really be better partners and be happier in the partner roles that they were filling.
And that was a super rewarding thing. It was a great way, I always said, a great way to leave the firm and leave a legacy because some of those partners now are, of course, ten or 15 years out from that and they still come to me and say, you know, that was like a real turning point, that experience.
00:49:01 So that’s been great. And the program is still run. In fact they made it not just a U.S. program, but a global program because it was so well received. So things like that that are a combination of just doing your job—I was doing my job. That’s what I should have been doing in that period of time, and doing it well. But also it’s more than just doing your job. It’s sort of giving back.
And, you know, I feel about Price Waterhouse Coopers kind of the way I feel about William & Mary. It was my home for 27, 28 years, and I have very warm feelings about it. A partnership is a little different than a corporation. You do feel much more like you’re a family, even though it’s a big organization. And so just, you know, I feel kind of the same way about giving back to that group as I do to William & Mary.
Carmen: Wonderful. So how would you say that William & Mary shaped that career trajectory? You’ve said a little bit about how your studies in sociology shaped you, but how would you say all those experiences at William & Mary really…?
Fran: Well, I think, number one—and this was important for women in the ‘60s—it gave me a lot of confidence. I was lucky that I had a supportive family—my mother not so much, but my father was very supportive.
But that said, I think my experiences at William & Mary, and really, women were treated really very equally at William & Mary, with the exception of those social rules which we got rid of. In the classroom I never felt that I was treated any differently than the males in the classroom, and it was pretty much 50-50 even then. And as I said, with the exception, there was sort of a dearth of women professors. But the male professors, I think, were not biased. I mean, they didn’t appear to be anyway, at least in my field.
00:51:01 And so I think that it gave me confidence that I could, in fact, do anything I wanted to do. And of course when I was frying fish, that wasn’t quite so apparent. But even then I really didn’t give up hope. I mean, I wasn’t depressed during that period of time. I just thought can we speed this up? Can I get to the real stuff, you know? But I wasn’t depressed because I was really confident that sooner or later things would change. And they did, luckily. And so confidence was one big thing.
The second thing, and I’m sure almost everybody must mention this to you, the value of a liberal arts education. I worked in a field, certainly later, all my time at Price Waterhouse and PWC, that is quite analytical, obviously. It’s kind of founded on analytical skills. And I had my share of analytical skills, and those were honed in the sociology department, too, because it was a data-driven social science.
00:52:05 But I think for me, anyway, what was even more valuable were the critical thinking skills, the breadth of exposure and intellectual stimulation. I worked with a lot of colleagues who frankly were much smarter than I was, but they tended to be narrower and deeper in their technical skills than I was. So what it afforded me was an opportunity, actually, to demonstrate different kinds of approaches to problems and thinking.
And that’s really how I got all those later promotions, was because I was really viewed as being much more creative and innovative, and I could get things done. And I credit a lot of that to William & Mary and to my broad liberal arts education—not just the sociology studies, because those were important and gave me some great tools, but really more importantly, the breadth of it.
00:53:05 And even things like football physics, actually. I had come home to roost. When I retired, one of the great things from the firm—I still do some work from the firm—one of the things that I started doing was going to physics lectures. And if you had told me, in 1970, I would ever go to a physics lecture after football physics, I would have said no.
But somehow a little seed was planted in those days, and I’m totally fascinated by what’s going on in the astrophysics area, etc. And I’ll never be an expert in that. I’m not willing to study that much. But it’s really interesting. So I think that intellectual breadth as well as the ability to think across disciplines. I’m a real believer in interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary, whether that’s at school or work.
00:54:05 The way you solve complex problems is to have a multidisciplinary approach, and also a diverse group of people with different backgrounds and ideas. That’s how you do it. And so all of that really, those seeds all were planted and nurtured at William & Mary.
Carmen: Are you a fish frying connoisseur now? Do you have many fish dishes—
Fran: [Laughs.] I will tell you, I didn’t eat fried fish for quite a long time because my roommates made me stop—we lived in a big apartment building, and there was a laundry room on each floor. They made me actually shed my fish clothes into the washing machine every night before I came into the—I would run from the laundry room into the apartment in my slip because there was a lot of fish oil and fish fry on those clothes every night. So, no, I stayed away from fried fish for quite a long time.
Carmen: That’s understandable, for sure.
Carmen: So I know your work, because you’ve mentioned it a couple times, but would you talk about some of the ways you’re still involved with William & Mary?
Fran: So to be honest, maybe it’s this dilettante thing. In the beginning it was really pretty, I would say, light involvement. You know, I would go to homecoming, not every year, maybe every three years. And, you know, I coordinated with some of these same friends that I get together with today.
And I always went by the sorority house and, you know, whatever, even though over time, of course, you lose contact and you really don’t know people there. So it was very centered on, I would say, my friends, my William & Mary friends was my link to William & Mary. And I always enjoyed when I was there, but it wasn’t a priority. And of course you’re in what I call the striving years, you know, in your 20s and 30s.
00:55:59 You’re basically trying to establish yourself as an adult. You’re trying to establish and move your career forward. So there’s…I think William & Mary sort of took a back seat. I always traveled a lot with my work once I worked for Price Waterhouse. I was on the road anywhere from 50 to 80% of the time most of my career, so it wasn’t as if I had like lots of extra time, so anyway. But…so I had this kind of what I will call light relationship, positive, but light relationship for the first maybe 20 years, probably.
And then as I mentioned, over 20 years ago I was asked not by Larry Pulley, who’s the current dean, but by his predecessor—Larry came on very shortly afterwards—to be on the board. And it was after my promotion to the U.S. and global leadership teams at Price Waterhouse. I think they read the “Wall Street Journal” article, probably, and said oh, I think maybe we should ask her to be on the board. And of course there weren’t very many women on the board. There were maybe one or two additional women on the board at the time.
00:57:10 So I welcomed that very quickly because I thought even though I was not a graduate of the business school, I think maybe in the back of my mind somewhere I was thinking gee, how could I give back to William & Mary, you know? I got a lot. I got a tremendous amount in my career from this organization, how could I maybe be closer to it and give more back. So I accepted readily.
And it was even then just a great group of people on that board. The school was kind of struggling—not the undergraduate, but the graduate school was kind of struggling at the time. And as I said, about a year or two later Dean Pulley came on board. And I think once Dean Pulley came on board we went from sort of recognizing that we were struggling to really making action plans and figuring out what were the root causes of those struggles and how do we address them.
00:58:05 And so it really was a very rewarding experience over the last 20 years to see all the things we’ve been able to do to improve things both at the undergraduate and graduate business schools. You know, our latest big enterprise is a great success, which is an online MBA. And that was something, again, we were the first in the college basically to do that. It took some doing to get that approved and on its way.
One of our fellow board members, Mike Stakias, just saw that through. He was knowledgeable. He knew the right people to bring to the table to help the college make those decisions and get that thing moving. So I think that’s been my experience on that foundation board, that we’ve got great people that are willing to roll up their sleeves.
00:58:57 I’ve done a lot of what I call internal consulting projects pro bono for the school, along with Joyce Shields, one of my other fellow board members. She and I teamed up and did a couple. I did a couple on my own, too. So I’ve been, as most people are, a really active board member over that period and really felt that we’ve seen accomplishments.
I’ve been on other not-for-profit boards, some of which have been really rewarding, like a charter school in the South Bronx that I’m very proud of. But I’ve been on some not-for-profit boards where you didn’t actually accomplish a lot. So I believe, you know, if you’re going to spend your time and some of your resources and your effort, it should have results. You should see forward motion and positive motion. And I think definitely that’s happened.
And then less than a year ago the school really kicked into high gear, or the college kicked into high gear the effort to engage women alumni.
01:00:00 And I raised my hand immediately because I think that I’ve always felt that one of the incredible assets of the college is women students and women alumni. And I think while certainly my experience would say that women are treated well at William & Mary, I do think that there are ways to leverage that asset that we have yet to discover, I’ll put it that way. And so I was very happy to participate, and have been a very active participant in that, and look forward to doing that for several more years.
Carmen: Great. That’s wonderful. That’s one of my questions, actually, that considering that we’re about to kick off the 100th year of coeducation, I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about what you believe to be the value and contribution of women at a college like William & Mary—at a university like William & Mary.
Fran: Yeah, I realize I still say college, and I like college, but I realize that the current term is university. I think I understand why that’s important to William & Mary. Well, first of all, as I mentioned, and a lot of people now probably don’t realize that William & Mary, when it went coed in 1918, that was very unusual. My understanding of the history is it was not out of social concern as much as out of the fact that after World War I there was a dearth of male students and the college was somewhat in fiscal issues and decided that admitting women was part of the answer to that.
But however it happened, you know, even though it happened maybe for financial reasons, that was a real groundbreaking thing in Virginia, I think. And Virginia sort of has a pretty big history of sex or gender, whatever you want to call it, segregated schools, colleges. And the University of Virginia, boy, hung on till the bitter end, as did VMI, right?
01:02:02 Those two schools really tried to keep that tradition going. So William & Mary had, I think, a very rich and robust history. And I’m always impressed when I see alums that are, say, even 20 years older than I am, believe it or not, that are women that graduated from William & Mary, or women my age whose mothers graduated from William & Mary. I have several of the friends in that group their mothers graduated from William & Mary.
So I think that William & Mary has offered women, particularly in Virginia, a really quality education for many, many, many decades which wasn’t necessarily always available to them in other places. So it is a really, I think, a crucial part of the history of the university that it provided that at that period of time.
01:03:00 Now, once the University of Virginia started admitted women and actually fully embraced it—it took them a few years to do that—once they started doing that, and of course several other great state schools now are coed, practically all, I think, maybe all, the options were much better, and maybe William & Mary didn’t serve that sole purpose as much. But I think that a tradition had been established. And the quality, because it was so competitive to get in, particularly for women, the quality of those women, not only in intellect, but also, as I’ve mentioned, in terms of leadership skills and community awareness, was really important.
And I think William & Mary, both when I went and through the decades, including today—and I see it absolutely in the business school where I probably spend the most time with students—really has an ethic of sort of people who are going to be good citizens, people who are going to be ethical in their careers, people who care about more than just themselves.
01:04:13 You know, I’ve worked with a lot of good business schools in my career, many, and I admire Wharton, I admire University of Michigan, I admire Chicago Business School, I admire Harvard, etc., and Stanford. But there is a difference. There is a difference in terms of kind of the ethos that the college provides to all their students, including their business students. So I probably see it more dramatically in the business area because certainly that’s not uniform across the country. But there’s something in addition to the great education that you get that is very formative, and that includes women.
01:04:59 And as I said, I think it prepares the women students I talk to, I mean, I can’t even remember one that I’ve ever talked to that I haven’t felt was self-confident, that felt they were going to go out into the world and make big things happen, and that they were going to live lives that were meaningful, that were really meaningful in all respects. And that’s true of my friends, regardless of what they did as careers. They led very meaningful, very full lives. They were in leadership roles in lots of things outside their occupation.
So to me that’s the William & Mary woman. You know, there’s a…I mean, we could do a little—I know we’ve been kind of working on that. We haven’t quite got the nugget yet. But there is something about William & Mary women. As diverse as we are, there’s something about us that is common, and that common thing is very good.
Carmen: That’s excellent, and what a way to put it. Well, I know we’re coming to the end of your time here, so I’ll just ask if there’s anything I haven’t asked you that you thought I would or that you would like to add to the record.
Fran: I think you’ve asked me almost everything. I mean, you did a great job. As I said, I gave a little bit of thought to this ahead of time. I know you said you don’t need to prep. But I think one way or another we’ve covered anything I would have wanted to share with you. And I think it’s great you’re doing this oral history. I mean, this is something that is important. And I hope, and I’m sure you are, some of those women that I talked about that were 20 years or, you know, I bet there’s a few even 30 years older than I am that were graduates. I mean, I think capturing their experiences and their thoughts is, I hope, a priority as well, while they’re still all with us.
Carmen: Yes, absolutely. They are on our list.
Fran: Okay, good.
Carmen: Well, thank you so much for sitting down with us and giving us your time. It was wonderful.
Fran: Thank you, Carmen. I fully enjoyed it. And thank you for the technical… [Thumbs up.]
01:07:08 [End of recording.]
©William & Mary Libraries. Acknowledgement of William & Mary Libraries, Special Collections Research Center as a source is required.
Non-Commercial Use/Fair Use
Special Collections Research Center at William & Mary Libraries welcomes non-commercial use and access that qualifies as fair use to all unrestricted interview materials in the collection. For more information about fair use, see William & Mary Libraries guidelines here.
The researcher must cite and give proper credit to Special Collections Research Center. The preferred citation is as follows:
[Interviewee name], interview with [Interviewer name]. [Interview date], [Name of Collection], Special Collections Research Center, William & Mary Libraries.
Example: Powell, Michael K., interview by Carmen Bolt. June 12, 2017, 50th Anniversary of African Americans in Residence Oral History Project, Special Collections Research Center, William & Mary Libraries.
For commercial use of any sort, including reproduction, distribution, derivative works, public performance, and public display that goes beyond fair use, the researcher must obtain written permission from SCRC by contacting SCRC by email here. Permission will comply with any agreements made with the interviewee, interviewer, or donor of materials. This permission is valid only insofar as Special Collections Research Center at William & Mary Libraries, as owner or custodian of the material, has any rights in the matter. This permission does not remove the responsibility of the author, editor, publisher, or broadcaster to guard against infringement of any rights, including copyright that may be held by others. The researcher must cite and give proper credit to SCRC. SCRC reserves the right to refuse the right for commercial use.
For most unrestricted interviews, copyright has been assigned to Special Collections Research Center at William & Mary Libraries. When the copyright has not been assigned to Special Collections Research Center at William & Mary Libraries, copyright is retained by the interviewers/interviewees, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
SCRC works to uphold the obligations and legal commitments made to interviewees, interviewers, and donors of material. Some interviews have restrictions imposed by the interviewee, interviewer, or donor; restricted interviews are clearly marked. In such cases, it is the researcher’s responsibility to uphold the restriction appropriately and completely. Researchers may, for example, be required to obtain written permission from the interviewee or interviewer to quote from the interview. Contact SCRC with any questions about restrictions by email here.
Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual’s private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which Special Collections Research Center at William & Mary Libraries and William & Mary assume no responsibility.
If an interview has been transcribed, researchers should quote from the transcript. If no transcript is available, reference to material in the interview should be taken from the audio recording.
For preservation purposes, use of audiotapes or videotapes will require production of listening or viewing copies. If a researcher requires the creation of a listening or viewing copy, the researcher will be responsible for the cost. For more details about audio/visual reproduction policies at the SCRC at William & Mary Libraries, contact the SCRC by email here.
If you are in need of any accessibility accommodations that require the creation of a listening or viewing copy of material, please let us know prior to your visit. You can also find information on the library’s accessibility services here.