magazine-category: Q and A

Meeting the First Family

Dr. Downs and family
President Downs, Rachel (daughter), Kim and Bradley (son)

Introducing President Dr. William M. Downs and First Lady Mrs. Kim H. Downs

Since arriving at Gardner-Webb, Dr. William M. Downs and his wife, Kim Harwood Downs, have spent their time connecting with the people of the University, the community and alumni. We asked them to share their reasons for coming to GWU, their hopes for the future, and to tell us a little more about themselves.

Q: You’ve lived in Belgium, Denmark, Boston, Mass., Atlanta, Ga., and Greenville, N.C. Why did you choose to come to Gardner-Webb and Boiling Springs?

Dr. Downs with wifeWilliam Downs: There are three clear things that compelled me
to leave a very good situation at East Carolina University (ECU): Gardner-Webb’s mission, its people and its location. This is just an incredible place that combines rigorous academic programs with a focus on spiritual growth. Here, we are able to educate the whole individual and make sure our graduates are ready to begin their careers and to make meaningful lives. The folks you meet in Boiling Springs and Cleveland County are some of the nicest people in the world. They are friendly, caring, focused and compassionate with a strong sense of community like a family. The overwhelming sense of welcome has been here from the start with the search committee through today. The location is also significant to us, as we both have parents or grandparents who have lived and worked in either Caldwell County, Stanly County or Cleveland County. 

Kim Downs: I was not born here, but my older sisters lived here. My father, D.G. Harwood, was the assistant county agent of Cleveland County; he and my mother loved it here and often spoke of it. As they both recently passed away, I feel like being here now is coming full circle and that they would be pleased and proud.

Q: What are your hopes and visions for Gardner-Webb?

Kim Downs cheering with studentsWilliam Downs: We intend to cherish, champion and defend the foundation and values that established this place so many years ago. I want to make sure everybody knows this is a strong Christian university, and to extend our name and brand so we are a first destination choice not just in our own backyard but across the region and beyond. I’d like us to really get ahead of the curve in terms of new academic programs by surveying what society needs, then moving quickly toward those opportunities. Examples include the healthcare field, such as our PA (Physician Assistant) program. Also, we have thousands of alumni in incredible places and it is important to reconnect with them. I am personally excited about meeting those folks.
Kim Downs: As I’ve gotten to know the faculty, staff and students, I’ve really seen what a truly special place Gardner-Webb is. Although being first lady is all new to me, as I’ve previously been a pharmacist focused on that job and family, I am excited to be involved in campus activities, student life and the community here. Bill and I have been sincerely welcomed, prayed for and encouraged, and students are as well. This kind of community is a huge plus in society today, so I am eager to help get the word out about what a distinct university we have here. 

Q: Coming from a public university, what unique insight do you bring to Gardner-Webb?

William Downs: My previous experience includes running a college of a significantly larger size and similar challenges to what we need to address here at GWU today. Through this, I have already seen solutions to navigate through fiscal stress, which gives me confidence to help with this in times of challenges at Gardner-Webb. Our goal is to maximize student success and enjoy the opportunity to get to know our students as individuals as we learn their names and hear their stories.

Q: You’re big sports fans. What role does athletics play in the life of the university? 

William Downs: I’m a sports fanatic. We are so interested in the fact that we have 22 Division I teams in Boiling Springs, and we are going to celebrate and support all of them. We are Bulldogs all the time now. University athletics can do so much for the student-athletes themselves, the campus atmosphere, the community and the alumni. It’s a lot of fun, too. We all got a flavor last March for what athletic success can mean for a community and for our alumni base, and I hope we can continue promoting that.

Q: You’ve been married 30 years. When did you first meet?

Kim DownsWilliam Downs: In elementary school, we ran against each other for fifth-grade class president, and she won. That’s another reason I decided to study politics — to figure out the injustice of that election outcome. She had a gimmick, and it worked.
Kim Downs: There was no injustice about that. My sister told
me that what I needed to do was have everybody scoot to the left of their chair and scoot to the right of their chair and then say, ‘See, I’ve just cleaned all these chairs in the auditorium.’ The teachers were rolling. They laughed and that was the
end. We were good friends in high school. We would hang out together and go to Bible studies together. I have a twin brother. He and Bill were good friends, and Bill was always around. We didn’t start dating until I was at Carolina and Bill was at State.

Q: What is a favorite scripture verse and why?

William Downs: I carry around I Corinthians 16:13, ‘Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.’ I anticipate moments in this job when we are going to need to have a little courage. We will get tested, and we will have to stay strong. A copy of that verse stays right there in my portfolio, and I can open that up and be reminded at any time: courage, strength and faith.

Kim Downs: When we were leaving ECU, one of my friends suggested that I go back and read the book of Esther. There is a verse, 4:14, that says, ‘You never know, maybe you are here for a time such as this.’ I am eager to see how God is going to use
me in this position. Since we moved back to North Carolina five years ago, we lost three of our four parents. I feel strongly that God brought us back to North Carolina for that time. Now, I’m excited about what’s in store for me here. 

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