LC in History: Origins of the Arts

Dr. Clifton W. Potter Jr., LC History Professor~

Last week while I was waxing nostalgic about the play, “Journey’s End, I only briefly mentioned the man responsible for our being there in the first place.  There were dramatic presentations at Lynchburg College from 1903, but until 1949 there was no department of dramatic arts; then Bob Hailey arrived.  Over the next 44 years, Dr. Robert Carter Hailey Sr. built one of the most popular programs and departments on campus. He essentially started with nothing, and when he retired in 1993, the Dillard Fine Arts Center was regarded by many as proof that dreams really do come true. Of course, Bob did not accomplish great things without the help of hundreds of students and faculty members, but he was like the Pied Piper.

He had a plan, and each year he completed part of it. It took 11 years, but in 1961 the first drama major graduated.  For a decade, one class at a time, the major had grown until it met the standards set by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.  Tony Mendez was the first of many majors to make their mark in every aspect of professional theater—from the agent’s front office to the footlights. Our students would compete against schools with huge budgets and departments, but bring home the honors, leaving their competitors wondering what had happened.  Bob Hailey relished each and every success, but he literally worked around the clock to make the magic that is theater happen.

Dr. Robert Hailey from the dramatic arts department. Photo retrieved from Lynchburg College Archives. Circa 1982.

Dr. Robert Hailey from the dramatic arts department. Photo retrieved from Lynchburg College Archives. Circa 1982.

During a show he rarely ate or slept.  He lived on coffee and cigarettes. His wife, Beverly, would bring his dinner to the office each night of tech and dress rehearsals and replace the untouched food with a fresh meal the next day.  By opening night Bob was exhausted, and after the final curtain call he went home. I am able to testify that at the next performance he was fully recovered and ready to bombard his cast and crew with pages of notes.  While I acted in a number of plays, I spent most of my time managing the house. It was fun and challenging because it did not simply involve selling tickets; sometimes it meant changing fuses between acts, and once during the run of “Teahouse of the August Moon” I helped escort a goat upstairs and poured a Pepsi in a helmet to lure it on stage each night.

Dr. Hailey also made valuable contributions to the local arts community.  He directed a number of shows, particularly musicals, and acted in many more.  Involved in the creation of the Lynchburg Fine Arts Center, he also was very active in the initial effort to save and restore the historic Academy of Music at the corner of Sixth and Main Streets.  It is now the home of the Academy Center of the Arts. These accomplishments and many more were celebrated when he retired. The East Room was filled with drama graduates who shared a lifetime of memories, but Bob considered his five children to be his greatest success—he once said that he had raised a perfect cast, with two roles for females and three for males.