Ricky Ochilo, staff writer
Warren Wilson College will once again host the George Donnell (G.D) Davidson Round table on April 16, 2009. The round table was set up to honor an Christian businessman, Donnell, who was one of the first settlers to establish a homeland with his family in the Swannanoa region.
Dr. Robert Vagt, former president of Davidson College is this year’s Davidson fellow and will share his life story Thursday April 16 at 6: 30 p.m. in the college chapel. Vagt was the 16th president of Davidson and served from 1997 to 2007. Under his leadership Davidson College raised $272 million dollars as part of its endowment. A majority of the gifts, 82 percent, have come from the Davidson family. Vagt was humbled by the family’s donation and promised that Davidson College would “work to be worthy of such generous efforts.”
The legacy of the round table has been to invite, honor and recognize Christian business, civic or religious leaders to share their stories and accomplishments in their respective fields. For example, past Davidson fellows have been recognized for contributions they have made in the fields of industry, business, benevolence, mission and service to the greater global community.
Vagt has also served in other capacities throughout his career. He was a prison warden in Greensboro. While he was in Alabama working with mental health patients, he held the title of director of clinical programs. Apart from his service to the developmentally challenged, Vagt helped the state of New York as an assistant director of the budget. He also served as an executive director of the Municipal Assistance Corp. in New York during the 1970s when the organization was facing a bankruptcy crisis.
Julie Lehman, Church Relations Development Manager at Warren Wilson expressed her enthusiasm for Vagt’s upcoming arrival.
“I am thrilled to have Bobby as this year’s guest lecturer for the Roundtable. I have heard him speak to college students with whom he is legendary and find his humility and authentic nature captivating, and possibly addicting,” Lehman said.
Currently, Vagt is working to steer the Heinz Endowment of Pittsburg, where he serves as president. Throughout his life, Vagt’s work has had a higher purpose. He has epitomized community service in times of harsh economic pitfalls, educational challenges and fought to remind people of the humbleness of the underpriviledged in our society. Vagt espouses Christian ethics and has not wavered from living a life of Christian vocation wherever he has served. During his spare time, Vagt volunteers to mentor youth in churches as an associate parish. Besides that, much of his positive influence on the lives of many youth has been through his chairmanship of the Children’s Defense Fund.
Vagt also held the office of president at Seagull Energy Corporation, a global oil and gas supplier based in Houston worth $1.25 billion. Notably, Vagt has held a wide array of jobs in different fields, which has led his mother-in-law to joke that “the boy can’t hold down a job.”
John McCartney, a friend of Vagt and chair of the Davidson trustees said, “[Vagt] is a driven, hard-nosed executive who brought us a bottom-line business sense of urgency to problem-solving. He kept us asking, what’s our mission, and are we moving there fast enough?”
To most on the Davidson campus Vagt is known as “Bobby.” One of Vagt’s challenges was trying to know the names and faces of students, faculty and staff. Occasionally, Vagt invited and entertained every faculty, staff member and graduating senior to his home.
Rob Spach, Davidson’s chaplain said that Vagt always showed his support for the community and events taking place.
“Whether it’s a Passover seder, a Latin dance on a Tuesday night, or a sleep-out for homelessness awareness, he’s there,” Spach said.
Robert Vagt has an B.A. degree in psychology from Davidson College and a master of divinity degree from Duke University.