Dr. Wallace on his family — and his family on him

Much has been written about what has happened at Campbell University during Dr. Jerry M. Wallace’s 12 years as its president. But below, we offer the perspectives of those who know him best: his wife of 58 years, Betty, and his three children: Betty Lynne Johnson, Kelly McLamb, and McLain Wallace. In the accompanying sidebar, Dr. Wallace talks about them and the role they have played in his career.

Wallace and family on the day of his presidential inauguration in 2004.

What Jerry Wallace’s wife says about him

Betty Blanchard Wallace ’72: “Jerry and I are so different in our personalities”

My teaching career
I was at East Carolina for two years. When Jerry got the church in Morven, he was anxious for me to go with him. That’s what I did. But he was determined that I was going to come back to school. I didn’t want to do it because I wanted to look after my babies. I did that until Kelly, my youngest one, was in kindergarten. That’s when I started back to school. I drove two years back and forth to Campbell. The first year was every Tuesday and Thursday, and then the second year I had to come every day 65 miles. I wore out our station wagon.

After I graduated I told Jerry, “Now, I’ve worked myself to death, and I want to stay home and do absolutely nothing.” He laughed and said, “That’s what I want you to do.” I graduated on a Thursday. We were eating dinner that Sunday when the telephone rang. It was the principal at the school in Clarkton. He said, “Betty, I need a kindergarten teacher.” I said, “I don’t want to come. I’m not coming. I don’t want a job now.” Well, I hung up and Jerry of course heard the conversation. He said, “Well, Betty, it won’t hurt you to go over and talk to him.” I started work the next week and taught school for the next 14 years or so.

I did a lot of my teaching from the Bible and the Little Golden Books.  When we began to be told we couldn’t do a lot of things in school, I told the principal, Mr. White: “Now, Mr. White, how am I going to teach my children if I can’t use the Bible?” He looked at me a minute and said, “Mrs. Wallace, you just go on and do what you’ve done. If they take you to court, I’ll go with you.” So I continued doing it.

On how I met him: We met at East Carolina in 1953. We were taking a health class. He needed a book that he had not bought, and I had it. I was seated behind him and said, “You can use mine.” That’s how it started. Our first date was Oct. 15, 1953. We went to the NC State/East Carolina freshman football game.
On why I married him: The very first thing I would say is I trusted him. I trusted him because I knew that he was a dedicated Christian. He was a good person dedicated to doing the right thing.
On what I respect about him: Jerry is who he is, morning, noon, and night. There is absolutely no pretense about how he feels about God, his family, and Campbell. He is doing the same thing at work as he is at home. He’s consistent in who he is.
On his first days as president: Jerry knew that he didn’t have as much time to get a lot done, so he had to start moving quickly. He took off like a road runner, and he kept Campbell foremost in his mind all the time. Campbell is a top priority, and the rest of us in the family go along with it. But he’s there when we need him. We have to give our family a little bit of credit for allowing him to do that, because we could have insisted on a lot of other things, especially me, but I knew it wouldn’t work so I didn’t do it.
On my role as Campbell’s first lady: When he became a pastor, Jerry said, “Now, the church can’t tolerate two pastors to be successful. All I want you to do is that which you want to do, but I don’t expect you to attend everything that goes on in the church.” The same thing has happened here. He started out saying, “Now, Betty, I’ve been called to be at Campbell, and I want you to love it and take care of the things that you want to do and what you feel you need to do.” He has never expected me to do anything I was uncomfortable with, and he was supportive of me.
What I’ve learned: We never know how God plans our life, and sometimes we look back at it and think, “Now how did that work out? How did that happen?” Then you realize that it all worked out because God intended it to work out. I strongly believe that we came to Campbell, and it was for a purpose; we were supposed to be here. The proof is in the pudding because you see what has happened since Jerry got here and took over. I don’t know how in the world he has done it.
On how I want to be remembered: As a friendly, kind person who believed in the purpose of God in our life. But the main thing I want you to remember about me is that Jerry and I are so different in our personalities that we both strongly believe that God intended us to meet. God put us together, or it would not have worked for 58 years. I would also love to be remembered as a helper to Jerry in what he was doing because that’s what I’ve done. Everything that I have done in my life has been centered around Jerry and my three children. That’s it. I’ve raised my family, which I’m very proud of because they are so much like their daddy. That’s all that’s been really important to me. I want them to love me when I’m gone.
On what’s next: The other day Jerry said, “Do you not want to take another trip?” And I said, “No, I don’t want to take a trip. That’s beyond us now. I don’t want to get on a boat or a ship or an airplane or anything.” But I hope that we can find some time to do some traveling in the United States, but not cruises and things like that. Also, what we want him to do is write three books. Book one about when he was growing up as a child, and another one about when he was a pastor because he’s got some delicious stories. And then I think he should write how it has been as a president.


What Jerry Wallace’s children say about him


Betty Lynne Wallace Johnson ’79: “He’s able to dream beyond what appears to be possible.”

Betty Lynne Johnson, the oldest daughter, is the assistant dean for interprofessional education, director of pre-clinical education for the physician assistant program, and associate professor of health professional studies in Campbell University’s College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences. She received a degree in physician assistant from the Wake Forest University School of Medicine and her Bachelor of Science and Master of Education degrees from Campbell University.

On my relationship with my father: I’m a daddy’s girl. I hate to say that, but that’s the truth. I could not have asked for a better father. He made us feel special. At the same time, because of that, he also made us understand that responsibility came with that. To whom much is given, much is required.
On what he expected from us: He has challenged us to be the best we could be every day of our lives. He’s challenged us to serve with the gifts that we’ve been given. He encouraged us to be a doctor, lawyer, preacher or teacher. He encouraged us to serve others. The interesting thing is he has a son who is a lawyer, a daughter who is a teacher, and I’m in medicine.

“He can control most every other thing about himself, but his feelings for us he cannot control.”

On how he loves: Daddy has a very unique type of love that is very hard to describe, but it’s intense and it’s different from most people’s way of loving. It’s the thing about him that he can’t control. He can control most every other thing about himself, but his feelings for us he cannot control. His depth of feeling stems from his compassion, and his capacity to love is just amazing. There is a lifetime of illustrations of that.
On his leadership style: His leadership is so effective because of three things that define him. He is beyond smart; his intelligence is exceptional. That is coupled with his people skills, his compassion and his sensitivity, and his ability to relate to people in all walks of life. The third thing is his vision. He’s able to dream and imagine beyond what appears to be possible.
On being an employee of Campbell: It has been very interesting. But I’ve been so very grateful. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to work at Campbell. It’s a dream come true.
On what’s next: Being a “PK” is what I’ve been all my life. First I was a preacher’s kid. Then I became the president’s kid. I guess next I’ll be the retired president’s kid. But his mind is not in retirement mode. I’m concerned that it never will be. Campbell is his passion. His feeling for Campbell defines passion. He’s the poster child for Campbell Proud. If you would cut him, he would bleed orange. He loves it with his heart and soul, and he has given his life for Campbell. He’s often said, “Campbell is worth a life.” He believes it, and he has given his life for Campbell and the bigger mission of Campbell, which is Christ’s mission.

Kelly Wallace McLamb: “He has always been bigger than life to me.”

Kelly Wallace McLamb, the youngest daughter, has been a public school teacher for 25 years and today teaches foreign language courses at Triton High School. She earned college credits from Campbell University while still in high school and finished her undergraduate degree at Meredith College.

On how I’m like my father: I look like my father, and I take that as a compliment. He’s pretty handsome! [laughs] But I think my siblings and I all have some of the same qualities as Daddy. We’re strong-willed and outspoken, and we are all early risers — just like Daddy.
On what you may not know about my father: He’s a pretty good cook. He makes a mean hamburger and a good cup of coffee. He also enjoys animals. He loves dogs, especially dachshunds. In fact I imagine he will get another one soon.

“To become the president was not his goal at all, but divine intervention and much prayer led him to the position.”

On my mother: She’s strong and a very supportive woman. Before she was a president’s wife, she was a preacher’s wife, so she was well-experienced on when to give advice and when not. She was a wonderful match for Daddy. He can sometimes be serious. She mellows him out.
On why I chose teaching: I grew up in a teacher’s home, and I was one of those who would play school growing up. In high school, I had a teacher who taught French. She brought out my love of languages. Daddy speaks a little French and a little less Spanish, but he always practiced with me. He was proud I wanted to be a teacher.
On being the daughter of a college president: It’s very odd sometimes. We have been treated so wonderfully when we’ve been at functions, but the biggest thing is when I hear people say how much they appreciate Daddy and how much they admire the things that Campbell has done. It’s kind of overwhelming and awe-inspiring. But then again I’m not surprised, because that is how he has always been. He has always been bigger than life to me.
On my father’s legacy: To become the president was not his goal at all, but divine intervention and much prayer led him to the position. He had a vision and wanted Campbell to be a student-centered university. Campbell has grown and matured so much in 12 years. It does my heart so good and so proud to know that my daddy had a hand in that and that he had a part in opening up Campbell to the world and showing others how it’s a wonderful place to study.

McLain Wallace: “Dad truly lived for Campbell and still does.”

Son McLain Wallace is vice president and general counsel and corporate secretary of the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. He earned his undergraduate degree in economics and law degree from Wake Forest University.

On what I learned from my father: He taught us to be kind to people, to always work hard, and to do your best. Being kind to people and understanding their needs is always paramount.
On his father’s legacy: His legacy is one of seizing opportunity and making the most of those opportunities. He stretched Campbell and the university has a different mentality today. It has a belief in itself that it can succeed and thrive. He has devoted 40-plus years of his life to Campbell, and he has been a tireless promoter of the university, even before he was president. He truly lived for Campbell and still does.

“It has been a really good partnership between Campbell and my dad. He has certainly benefitted from Campbell and Campbell from him.”

On his mother: My mother has been a very good partner at Campbell with my dad for those 40 years. She has been a good as a First Lady despite her health constraints.
A campus memory: My dad always had me working some kind of job, so I used to work the concession stands during Campbell athletic events. I had to learn how to make change in my head. It was a good way to learn to add and subtract. I also worked two summers on the grounds crew at Campbell while I was in college. That’s another thing about my dad. He always emphasized having some kind of job. It was nice to have the money, but the experiences were more valuable.
On why I chose law: My dad was admitted to Wake Forest Law School, and he always wondered what his life would have been like had he had not changed courses and gone to Southeast Seminary. I don’t know if I was predetermined to go to law school; but it was always something we talked about, and it was always something I thought I would do. It was and is a noble profession.
On how I hope my father is remembered: It has been a really good partnership between Campbell and my dad. He has certainly benefitted from Campbell and Campbell from him. He has helped lead the school in a way that has been true to his beliefs and the school’s heritage, and he has helped Campbell reach the next level. It’s a very different school than before he became president, and I believe for the better.