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Newly retired Roanoke College president wants to keep helping

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His first day as retired Roanoke College president, Michael Maxey said he dropped down to North Carolina for a visit with his namesake grandson.

Visits like those are the finer things Maxey looks forward to in retirement, now that Frank Shushok assumed the role of Roanoke College’s 12th president on Monday.

“I have told everyone that I will certainly bow out and stay out of president Shushok’s way,” Maxey said Tuesday. “But I’ll be available to him and anyone else that needs me, for whatever that is.”

Maxey, who from 1985 until last week served in leadership roles for Roanoke College, said he is contemplating how best to involve himself in further community work beyond retirement. But he’s taking a few months to formulate ideas, discipline his approach and pinpoint a worthy project.

“I want to help my profession, I want to help colleges succeed, and I certainly want to help Roanoke succeed,” Maxey said. “And I want to help my community, because that’s so important to me. To be able to tackle all that as my next project, it’s fun.”

A 15-year stretch at the helm of Roanoke College required Maxey, 70, to focus on servant-style leadership, and to become a Swiss Army knife, he said.

“That means you can do whatever the college needs,” he said. “I’ll continue to try to do that.”

Maxey said his successor faces a similar challenge as any other university president: balancing the tried and true traditions of a college campus with the innovation necessary to remain relevant through changing times.

“We’re great at mentoring students. We never want that to go away,” Maxey said. “Figuring out how to do that better, differently and in relevant ways for the lives that future students want to live, that’s going to be the challenge.”

That challenge is part of the how education is already changing, with schools such as Roanoke College emphasizing real world experience for students through internships, research placements and mentorship, he said.

“That’s what gives students an edge in their future, having real world experience in addition to the kind of traditional education we give,” Maxey said.

Continuing, he said: “You’ll see more and more emphasis on how we prepare you to enter the world.”

Known for always wearing a bow tie, Maxey said he’ll still don a bow tie-emblazoned ball cap on those more relaxed retirement days when he isn’t in formal attire.

He described his time with Roanoke College as a blessing, and repeated some advice he gave his successor:

“When you live in a community where you have all these smart people with great ideas, a big part of your job is to help their good ideas emerge,” Maxey said. “I was fortunate to be around a lot of people with great ideas. It’s important to listen to them and help the best of the ideas come along and grow.”

Coming soon: An interview with Frank Shushok.


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Luke Weir covers higher education and state government. He can be reached at (540) 566-8917 or

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