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August 1997

Changing of the guard: Bill Rawson retires as two new veeps arrive

It's a busy month in the Fleischmann Building. The home of UCAR's top management is seeing its biggest turnover since the mid-1980s. On 2 September, Bill Rawson, vice president for finance and administration, will hand over the reins to his successor, Katy Schmoll (he will officially retire on 12 September). Bill's counterpart, vice president for corporate affairs Harriet Barker, is moving to FL4 (formerly UCAR North) as another new UCAR vice president, Jack Fellows, arrives on the scene. Both Katy and Jack are pulling up stakes from key positions in Washington, D.C., to join the UCAR team. More on the two new veeps will appear in the September Staff Notes Monthly. Harriet will continue to serve as a UCAR vice president during and for some time after the transition.

"It's been much more difficult than I ever thought it would be," says Bill Rawson, "to think about stepping down and to wonder what you do with the rest of your life. The word 'retirement' has not been in my lexicon, so I've been using euphemisms for the last several months."

Bill started work at NCAR on 27 December 1969, barely two years after the Mesa Lab opened. After serving as a budget and planning specialist and then heading the B&P office, Bill was promoted to direct the old NCAR Administration Division in 1978. In 1980, Bill became director of finance and administration of UCAR and wore both NCAR and UCAR hats until February 1984, when both he and Harriet Barker were appointed as UCAR vice presidents.

Bill Rawson. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

Despite the ups and downs in particular programs, the UCAR/NCAR/UOP enterprise has grown nearly every year of Bill's tenure. As the institution's chief financial officer, he's witnessed growth in annual funding to a level that now tops $150 million. "When I got here," Bill recalls, "the first budget I worked on was $13 million." Along with the growth has come increased complexity, especially as other-agency funding and regulatory requirements have risen. Bill has stayed the course, although he's been frustrated lately by "the increase in bureaucratic requirements placed on us. It's stifling science, and we shouldn't have to be doing it."

Perhaps Bill's most notable legacy is what he refers to as the "creative financing" put to use in major building and facility acquisitions. Under Bill's watch, UCAR

From Utah to the Pentagon

Bill's commitment to public service was born during his high school days in Utah. A native of Salt Lake City, Bill credits a civics teacher with kindling his interest in politics and government. "Then I took Poli Sci 101 in college and the guy who taught it, J. D. Williams, was spectacular. He really sparked my interest, especially in public administration." (Bill stays in touch with a close-knit group of college friends that includes motivational speaker and writer Stephen Covey.)

Before Bill could graduate from the University of Utah, the Korean War intervened. He opted to join the National Guard, then served the two-year missionary stint common among his Mormon contemporaries, after which he joined the Army. "I got a plum assignment. They sent me to the Army Administrator's School, where the top graduate got to go to the office of the [Army] chief of staff." Stationed at the Pentagon with a Q (top-level) security clearance, Bill worked at the chief of staff's message center, dealing with missives both classified and unclassified. "I learned quickly that the classification system had a lot of silliness in it. Also, in those days, everything was accessible. Anyone off the street could walk into the Pentagon and march through the corridors."

After two years in the service, Bill polished off his bachelor's degree at Utah, then returned to Washington to try law school. (Because of surgery, he dropped out of law school and, because of career opportunities that followed, didn't return.) In D.C., a friend advised him to check out a new government branch devoted to science. "After Sputnik went up in 1957, science funding had increased dramatically and NSF was growing." While awaiting appointment as a government management intern, Bill got his foot in the NSF door as a clerk-typist, passing the typing test at 36 words per minute. "My mother had insisted that I take typing in junior high, and she was right. It may have been the most important class I ever took."

Clockwise from right: Bill Rawson, Rick Anthes, and Harriet Barker confer in this file photo from 1988.

Bill rose quickly through the NSF ranks, becoming a senior contracts negotiator in the mid-sixties and head of the General Contracts Section from 1966 on. He flew to Israel, India, Egypt, Ceylon, and Tunisia--and behind the Iron Curtain to Poland and Yugoslavia--setting up translation programs for scientific literature. The frequent flying caught up with Bill on 12 April 1968, when he narrowly escaped death on a Boeing 707 aircraft departing London's Heathrow Airport.

"I was reading Look magazine and, about four minutes after takeoff, there was a big bang. The guy next to me said, 'My God, the wing's on fire.' I looked out and, sure enough, it was. I thought we'd probably go into the English Channel." Instead, the plane was able to return to Heathrow and land just before the burning left wing fell off. "Because I was in the window exit adjacent to the right wing, I pulled the hatch down, but I remembered I had the original copy of a translated manuscript from Egypt. We'd worked for a year on it! So then I was fiddling around in the overhead compartment while people were shooting past me. Finally I gave up and got off the plane."

Six people died in the smoke and flames that day. Burned by the experience, both metaphorically and literally (Bill suffered third-degree burns on his hand while exiting the plane), "I got home and decided I needed to do something else." He was investigating the option of a doctorate at Brigham Young University in 1969 when Ed Wolff, then the assistant director of NCAR, phoned him about an opening in Boulder. "The budget process at NCAR had been almost ad hoc, and they'd decided it was time to change it. I came out to Boulder and decided, Wow, this is a pretty exciting place." The rest, as they say, is history.

Ever the optimist

Bill had originally planned to retire at his 30-year service mark, which would have been five days before the year 2000. However, health concerns (cardiovascular problems and diabetes) prompted his decision to make an earlier exit. "I know it's the right decision," says Bill, "but to implement it is fraught with emotional things that you wouldn't anticipate."

The UCAR Board of Trustees honored Bill on 9 July with a reception and a testimonial. "Well known for his probity; his deep commitment to UCAR's values, goals, and activities; his integrity; and his genuine care for his associates and colleagues, Bill has truly left his mark on UCAR and all the people he has worked with," said the board members, who presented Bill with an authentic 18th-century map prepared by explorer Captain James Cook's cartographer following his voyage to the west coast of North America. The trustees wished Bill "sunny skies, wonderful new horizons, wind-filled sails, and the best of everything."

Along with spending time with his three children and four grandchildren (a fifth is on the way), Bill's future will include continued involvement with the UCAR Foundation, which he and Walt Roberts created in the mid-1980s. The foundation gave birth to the now-independent WITI Corp., which Bill believes "could provide a substantial revenue stream to the organization." Meanwhile, as the first-ever UCAR vice president emeritus, Bill will work with the foundation on a pro bono basis "to see if the technology commercialization effort will pay for itself. It's going to be kind of fun to focus on one thing rather than five thousand."

As for the institution as a whole, Bill sees good things in store. "We're on the cusp of understanding regional climate impacts. We have the capability, if we can find the funding, to significantly improve forecasts and detection of severe weather." However, he warns, "We have got to reestablish the importance of fundamental research not tied to transient politics."

All in all, says Bill, "I have no doubt the organization is going to continue to grow and be successful. We do good things and we have great people. Our third- and fourth-year NSF reviews were very positive. I'm optimistic by nature, but I feel especially optimistic about this place." •BH

How about Bill's real accomplishments?

At his 9 July reception, Bill Rawson--tongue in close proximity to cheek--related three of his most important accomplishments:

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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu

Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall