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William G. Foulke, Jr.
On recent summer mornings, Bill Foulke would find himself awakened at 5:30 a.m. to a reveille of grandbaby wails, closely followed by the shrieks of a daily wrestling match between older grandsons. Still, by the time he’d get himself over to College of the Atlantic, where he has just taken on the role of chairman of the board of trustees, Foulke would be as relaxed as any man savoring the joys of retirement, as cheery as if he’d awoken to Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.
Foulke clearly relishes his family. He beams when he speaks of his wife, Wendy, a teacher of English as a second language, their visiting children and grandchildren, and his musical and service-oriented mother, the late Louisa Foulke. And he proudly names the COA pedigrees of family members: his Shakespeare-loving and equally service-oriented father, the late William G. Foulke, Sr., a COA trustee for five years; his sister Louisa Newlin, who teaches Shakespeare at the college and is married to trustee Bill Newlin; and Newlin’s own sister Lucy Bell Sellers, who teaches theater at the college and is married to former trustee Peter Sellers. Yes, Foulke is eager to talk about his family, but our new board chair does not like talking about himself. There are a few other things he doesn’t like—especially long meetings and loose agendas.
What Foulke does like is College of the Atlantic, its gravity in relation to the environment, its interdisciplinary approach and international component. And yet, despite being surrounded by COA through his family, it took the late COA trustee Alice Eno to get Foulke involved with the college, sometime around the turn of this century. The timing was right. In the late 1980s, when Foulke, Sr. served on the board, his son was still busy with family and career. A decade or so later, when Eno called to “introduce” Foulke to the college, he was ready. With Sam Hamill stepping down as board chair earlier this year, and Foulke having already served six years as a board member, he says, “You kind of know whether you want to take more responsibility or not.” Foulke decided he did.
It would take commitment, yes, but he didn’t think it would overwhelm him. “We have a great many good people on the board and I have a great deal of confidence in the president and in the administration and the faculty,” he says. “Many hands make light work.” And Foulke smiles, a happy, round-faced, ultimately sweet smile, and adds, “I find it exciting to be associated with a college which is growing in stature."
The college’s environmental focus is an essential reason for Foulke’s interest, along with the fact that it is, as he says, “one of the essential institutions of Mount Desert Island.” And that means a lot to Foulke, because MDI is the one consistent place the Foulke family has called home.
As with many, Foulke’s concern for the environment began with his own love of being outdoors, especially sailing and fishing. “Over time you realize there has been a degradation of fresh and saltwater environments—you don’t have to be a scientist to notice it. It leads one to a conclusion that you ought to do something about it,” he says.
Raised in Philadelphia, Foulke attended St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, before going on to study English literature at Princeton University. After college, he served in the navy. “The navy gave me a good sense of management and leadership and gave me some confidence in dealing with people from all over,” a skill that he frequently relied on during a career spent in international business. “I’m very interested in institutions which draw together people from a lot of different parts of the world,” he says. “International involvement is an essential portion of higher education in the twenty-first century—” yet another connection between him and COA.
Foulke sees the most important issue for the college as continuing to attract funding, “so that we can invest in the intellectual capital of the college and also keep the cost of education as reasonable as possible—consistent with our high standards of education.” A second focus is the alumni community that is increasing by the year, and becoming increasingly prominent. “It is important to recognize the accomplishments and intellectual energy that flow from the alumni back to the college and vice versa—it would be my hope that the college would be one of the key networks used in the lives of the alumni as their careers develop,” he adds.
Though modest, even self-effacing, when Foulke is called upon to discuss the college, that same sweet, beaming smile comes onto his face as when he talks about his family. Clearly, for Foulke, COA has attained family status, and when he speaks of it, the pride is evident. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to be involved in a unique educational institution,” he says of his connection to COA. “And to continue using my mind—continue learning things—and have exposure in a meaningful way to younger people who are being educated. It’s really a privilege.”