One Saturday night, a young Bill Donovan was coming out of his office on the Loyola campus when Susan Hickey, the dean of students, happened to drive by. “She stopped and said, ‘Hello, what are you doing?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m doing some work.’ So Monday I got a student incident report that said, ‘Suspicious faculty member coming out of his office Saturday night for no good reason—should go see the dean of students and explain.’ That started it.”
Dr. Bill Donovan, associate professor of Latin American history, was recounting this story in early March from his bookshelf-lined office in Knott Humanities Center at Loyola Maryland, which just happened to be one floor up from the office of his wife, Dr. Susan Donovan, executive vice president. For 25 years, the academic and the administrator have helped the university to grow while expanding their own family with twins Meghan and Caitlin.
“Neither Bill nor Susan ever tried to minimize the complexity of that balance, and I think in that process acted as role models to generations of men and women,” said Dr. Katherine Brennan, associate professor of early modern French history, who has known Bill Donovan since grad school at Johns Hopkins. “Their daughters in a sense grew up under our eyes.” The girls will be college juniors this fall.
Through Susan, Bill said, he has gotten to know a side of the university that faculty members don’t usually get to know—and has experienced the occasional ego check. On an early date, when he was an untenured faculty member, the couple attended a Businessman of the Year dinner. “The dean at the time was a really formidable person, and he bent down, looked at me and said, ‘What are YOU doing here?’ And I said, ‘I’m with Sue…’ Afterward, there was a meet and greet, and some woman said, ‘Well, who are you?’ and I said, ‘Well, I’m assistant faculty and I’m here with Susan—’ and she said, ‘Oh, you’re not important’ and walked off.
“Faculty tend to be the center of attention both inside and outside the classroom, but when we go out, people don’t want to see me, they want to see her. I don’t mind not being the center of attention. I am good at what I do, I enjoy what I do, it’s very different from what she does, and I’m fine with it.”
Dr. Bill Donovan helped to found the Latin American studies minor at Loyola and has always designed his courses to meet the needs of a growing Central American and Latino population, Dr. Brennan said. “He has a sense of compassion and a sort of deep sense of how difficult it is sometimes to belong, to find a place within a college environment. He was an Army brat and moved a lot and I think in that he understood those students who came to us from different backgrounds.”
Born in Germany to parents who never finished high school, Dr. Donovan grew up on Army bases in Panama, Virginia, Alaska, Texas—and Kentucky, spending three years at Fort Knox. “I remember going to Louisville as a boy. And those were very important years, because on base in the late 1950s, early ’60s, everything is integrated, but as soon as you went off base … that was an eye opener for me. A lot of who I am today comes from those contradictions I saw.”
He graduated from high school in El Paso and went to the University of Texas, where he majored in science and minored in geology and architecture. “One day a professor said, ‘You know, Bill, you’re very good at this but you clearly have no passion for it. What are you interested in?’ And I said, ‘Well, I really like history.’ And he said, ‘Go study history.’”
At Bellarmine, he may teach an interdisciplinary course or two but has no plans to teach fulltime. There is some writing he’d like to get back to, and he hopes he and Susan will be able occasionally to visit their house on the Eastern Shore, in Chestertown, Md., where they ride bikes, go to the market and do some sightseeing.
One thing they won’t do: talk business. “We try not to talk about business, and we do pretty good at that. She doesn’t want to hear what happened at my department meetings—although when I come home and say, ‘I want a large Scotch,’ she knows it wasn’t pleasant,” he said. Now, however, he added, “I will relearn to drink bourbon.”
By Carla Carlton | email@example.com
Fast Facts on Dr. Bill Donovan
- Was an Army brat who was born in Germany.
- Lived at Fort Knox for three years as a boy.
- Started college as a science major “because I thought you were supposed to go to do something useful.”
- Founded the Latin Studies minor at Loyola Maryland.
- Loves motorcycles. Owns a 1971 Triumph and plans to buy another. (Susan Donovan does not share this interest. “It never occurred to me that I’d marry a woman who hated motorcycles,” he said. “I sold my last one just before I met Susan and it took me 17 years to get another one.”)