Bill Blaine-Wallace taught Bates College that, among other things, sadness is an acceptable emotion. As the Multifaith Chaplain announced his pending retirement late last week, his lesson held a lot of credence. After what he described as “seven amazing and life-giving years” at the college, Blaine-Wallace and his wife, Victoria, are leaving the community and opening a counseling practice in Farmington, Maine.
Blaine-Wallace has been a powerful presence on campus in many capacities. From teaching a Short Term course on the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, to comforting students, staff and faculty in the wake of Troy Pappas’ tragic death and joining the ongoing conversation on college sexual assault, to lending an ear and a smile to any person with a concern, Bill’s contributions to our community cannot be overstated. When asked what advice he would give to Bates College upon his retirement, Blaine-Wallace supported a culture of openness and expression.
“When big things happen that affect daily life at Bates, it is important to create spaces for voices and feelings to be heard, a time and a space to reflect,” he said. “In community we find the strength and the knowledge to go on together.”
Blaine-Wallace recognizes the importance of conversations in Commons, dorm rooms and classes as a means of processing daily life, but believes in the power of many voices to make a tangible difference.
As Multifaith Chaplain, Blaine-Wallace would host dinners at his house on Thursday nights for any students who wanted a space off campus to hang out, mingle with new people, and discuss issues pertinent to their college lives. Blaine-Wallace cites the multifaith dinners as some of his fondest memories of the college. “It is important to me to be together with students when there’s no real agenda or purpose in a space to talk about whatever comes up,” he said. “Whenever that happens, those are my best times at Bates.”
At last Thursday’s multifaith dinner, Blaine-Wallace and Associate Multifaith Chaplain Emily Wright-Magoon posed a query to a room crowded with students. They drew attention to the rhetoric surrounding identity, that figuring out who one is has become a large part of today’s society. They offered that it is more important to figure out what makes one passionate, what makes one feel like they are alive. The students were very receptive of this query–as seniors prepare to graduate, juniors think about theses, sophomores declare majors and first years sign up for courses in hopes of finding direction, it is easy to paint oneself color-by-number instead of taking the time to explore one’s spirit. Blaine-Wallace’s answer to the query seemed to crystalize both his role at Bates College and why he feels it is time to leave.
In the past, Blaine-Wallace counseled a member of the community who was ill. In their conversations, he uncovered meaning and purpose and a struggle.
“I realized how precious those conversations are to me and I think over the years I’ve come to focus less on who I am or who those people are and more on what happens between us,” he said. “What’s sacred to me is the space between us and I think our culture’s fascination with the self is pretty harmful in a lot of ways.”
Of the saying “I think, therefore I am,” Blaine-Wallace corrected, “We relate, therefore we are.”
Counseling is not new to Blaine-Wallace; aside from a background in pastoral psychology with a focus on family therapy and loss and transition, his role at Bates College in many ways leaned towards counselor. He and his wife are looking forward to spending more time on their farm, raising chickens, goats and any other animals that may come their way.
“I guess my passion is to participate in conversation that makes a difference, sort of tilling a smaller piece of land (figuratively speaking) and being able to focus more directly and intently on those conversations,” said Blaine-Wallace.
Although Blaine-Wallace will not be teaching this Short Term, he admits to the possibility that he may return to teach some classes in the future.
In an email to the entirety of the college, President Clayton Spencer said, “We will find a time to celebrate [Blaine-Wallace] properly during the spring semester, but today, please join me in thanking Bill for his remarkable service.”
Many of us have been affected, even if indirectly, by Bill’s kindness and willingness to listen. Although the community supports him in following his passion, it is a bittersweet parting and one that will certainly leave a void.