A Reflection on Two Lives Well Lived
Recently Elon University has experienced the loss of two great men. And I personally have lost two cherished friends.
James Earl Danieley, who died at age 92, was the sixth president of Elon, a beloved presence on campus and a figure who loomed large in Elon’s history. Lesser known was William “Bill” E. Loy Jr., a longtime Elon benefactor who passed away at 95. He was raised on the Loy Farm adjacent to Magnolia Cemetery and lived for decades in the one-story brick ranch house next door to where the Ernest A. Koury, Sr. Business Center is sited. Both men were lifelong residents of Alamance County, North Carolina, and lived most of their remarkable lives, and died, just a short distance from where they were born. They both enjoyed long and happy marriages to the loves of their lives. And they happened to die weeks apart under hospice care in the very same room in a local nursing facility.
The story of their lives is in many ways the story of the 20th century. Earl and Bill both grew up in loving farm families and had big responsibilities at a young age. Earl had to make a deal with the bursar of Elon College to pay his tuition bill after he helped bring in the tobacco crop and take it to market. Bill grew up as one of 13 children, where everyone pulled their weight on the farm and where Sunday dinner and family celebrations were weekly occurrences.
Both Bill and Earl were tested in very different ways as young men. Bill went off to fight in World War II as a rifleman in the Army’s 4th Infantry Division; that he learned to shoot and make his way around in the woods in Elon as a boy very likely contributed to his survival in wartime. He took part in the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest, one of the bloodiest of the war, and witnessed the horrors of combat that haunted him even as an old man. Earl took over tiny, struggling Elon College at age 32. When Earl graduated from Elon in 1946, the college had produced only 1,600 graduates in its 57-year history; to say he had a building effort in front of him would be a considerable understatement. Bill and Earl were courageous men.
Earl and Bill devoted themselves to their communities and to building institutions over the course of many decades. In the dark days of wartime battles, Bill promised himself that if he ever made it home alive, he would make his community a better place to live. He came back to Elon to found the Town of Elon Fire Department, an organization to which he was devoted until his final days. Bill worked hard to acquire the equipment to protect the town and the college, and realized a lifelong dream of the construction of a substation on the north side of the railroad tracks, in case a stopped train blocked fire trucks from reaching campus. He also played a major role in the growth of his hometown college, where he met his future wife, the late Elizabeth “Lib” Apple Loy ’47, at an Elon football game. Over the course of many years, he donated property and helped Elon obtain additional parcels that have been key pieces in the university’s campus master plan.
We celebrated Dr. D’s 70 years of service to Elon as professor, dean, president and president emeritus just last May. And on top of lifelong devotion to Elon, Earl also found time to serve as a county commissioner, a member of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors and in many leadership roles in the Elon Community Church. In the age where everyone expects quick fixes and instant gratification, Earl and Bill knew what it meant to stick it out for the long haul. I can’t think of a better way to teach about civic engagement than to point to the lessons taught by these two men’s lives.
But mostly, I will remember Earl and Bill for their intense love of people. Both loved college students. After Verona Danieley died, rather than go home for lunch to an empty house, Earl put a sign-up sheet on his office door and took a different student out each day. When we were thinking about siting the Koury Business Center next door to Mr. Loy, I asked him what he would think about having a couple of thousand business students as next door neighbors. Bill replied joyfully, “I love students close by!”
Bill and Earl were both storytellers and good ones at that. What a joy it was to hear many of Earl’s stories at Spring Convocation celebrating the 125th anniversary of Elon’s founding in 1889. And Bill was present on campus in November at our annual Veteran’s Day ceremony and regaled us with a memory about his service to our nation.
Above all, Earl Danieley and Bill Loy were optimistic men, and spent much of their days encouraging others, including me. They were both men of deep faith. At church, Earl always sat in the same pew and signaled when the congregation should stand, while Bill’s preferred way to talk with God was to walk in the woods behind his home. In my time as president of Elon, I have met many men and women who I think of as shining examples of the human spirit. Earl Danieley and Bill Loy rank among the most luminous.
Leo M. Lambert
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