Thursday was a quiet day in the president's office at Samford University -- not exactly what an observer might expect on the first day for new Samford President Andrew Westmoreland. For Westmoreland, though, the day was anything but quiet.
Samford's 18th president arrived on campus just before 7 a.m. to begin his first day in office. By 8 a.m. he was traveling to Montgomery to represent Samford at several long-scheduled meetings. He didn't arrive back on campus until after 4 p.m., tired but exhilarated by the day's events.
"I couldn't have asked for a better start in my relationship with Samford. From the first exchange of the morning to the last greeting of the day, I experienced the hospitality for which the university is known," Westmoreland said at the end of his first day.
Although Westmoreland was elected Samford president in January, he did not take office until Thursday following the retirement of now President Emeritus Thomas E. Corts. Westmoreland formerly was president at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark. He already has spoken as president-elect in several Birmingham-area churches and for other Samford events.
In an early morning email distributed to employees and students, Westmoreland said he unlocked his office with keys left for him by Corts.
"A few minutes ago, I took from my pocket an old key and unlocked the door to the president's office in Frank Park Samford Hall," Westmoreland wrote. "I had the option of using the shiny key given to me a few days ago, but-yesterday-I opened an envelope that Tom Corts left behind, with Dr. Westmoreland' penned in that distinctive handwriting, and inside were two old keys to the building.
"It was a contemplative moment for me as I turned the key, heard the lock click, and opened the door to a new era of my life."
The day was filled with work on behalf of Samford, as Westmoreland attended the regularly scheduled meeting of a state Baptist convention committee and met with convention leadership.
"In between my time in the office in the early morning and late afternoon, I made a quick trip to Montgomery for meetings and a luncheon with representatives of the Alabama Baptist State Convention," Westmoreland said.
"In every encounter, I heard people speak of their deep affection for Samford and of their hopes for the university's future. I'm beginning to understand the extraordinary reservoir of goodwill among our stakeholders and the solid commitment of the members of our faculty and staff to building on this great legacy."
Sitting in an almost bare office, Westmoreland had a few minutes to meet with office staff before the work day officially ended about 4:30 p.m. But, Westmoreland stayed at his desk until early evening reading some of the emails he had received.
"By the end of the day, I had received more than 150 e-mail messages from students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends, from as close as Homewood and as far away as London," Westmoreland said. "Each message offered words of encouragement as I begin this new assignment. There will be difficult moments in the years to come, I'm sure, but I will always remember this day as a time of affirmation. I am humbled by the gift of trust that I have received from the Samford family."
One thing Westmoreland does not plan to change is the tradition that Samford's president does not have a reserved parking space. Arriving at 7 a.m. may help ensure a space, Westmoreland noted humorously. He did confirm with a bystander, though, that where he was parking on his first day was "legal" for an employee. Assured that it was, he strolled confidently across Sherman Circle toward his office in Samford Hall.
Samford's new president will have little time to get settled on campus until later in June because of a heavy travel schedule. On Friday, his second day as president, he will attend the annual Ohio Valley Conference meetings in Nashville. This weekend, he and his wife, Jeanna, will travel to Charleston, S.C., for the June 4-6 annual meeting of the Association of Baptist Colleges and Schools.