What is legacy?

Jacque Day in front of Kreitzberg Library.

Jacque Day in front of Kreitzberg Library.

In thinking about the upcoming Year of Legacy, we put that question to ourselves. After all, “legacy” is a broad term. But when we looked at the essence of legacy, this simple definition presented itself. Legacy encompasses: What we’ve inherited. What we’re living. What we’re leaving.

The word “legacy” dates back to the 14th century, defined as a “body of persons sent on a mission,” and takes its root from the Latin legatus, an ambassador or envoy. Beginning with Captain Alden Partridge and his idea for this institution, we have through time advanced as a body of persons on a mission. And, for nearly 200 years, our alumni have served as ambassadors for change and forward motion.

We love to talk about the leaders Norwich has produced and the legacies they leave—our great military officers, influential figures in business and industry, thought-leaders, humanitarians, athletes, those who look for ways to improve our environment and preserve it for generations to come. We do our best to encourage and celebrate that cultivation of Norwich leaders who leave lasting legacies.

The most powerful legacy any of us can hope to leave is one that endures beyond our good names, and continues to grow, perpetuate, and resonate. Of such a legacy, one alumnus in particular comes to mind. Dana Professor Emeritus of History Gary Lord has called him arguably the most influential of all Norwich alumni. In a documentary about this man’s life, one even remarked that he has likely “single-handedly helped more people than almost anyone else on Earth,” and Aldous Huxley called him “the greatest social architect of the twentieth century.”
The man I’m speaking of is William Griffith Wilson, anonymously known as Bill W., co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Plagued by depression and discipline problems, Bill W. was a troubled young man when he attended Norwich University in the years leading up to WWI. Duane “Dewey” Martin ’67 wrote a wonderful piece about Bill W. for “200 Things About Norwich,” which appears on our bicentennial website. Some of you certainly remember the memorial held for Bill W. in White Chapel after his death in 1971. Using the matrix above, it is a simple task to define Bill W.’s legacy. What did he inherit? A crippling disease. What did he live? The hell of that disease, then later, in sobriety. What did he leave? A method, the 12-step program, that has saved countless lives and continues to hold up through time. How many have been rescued from the clutches of alcohol, drugs, tobacco, gambling, hoarding, through a 12-step program? Bill W. gave humanity the greatest gift: hope.

That is some legacy.

The beauty of hope is that it is limitless, free, and always close at hand. W. Somerset Maugham wrote, “When love and duty are one, then grace is in you.” Love and duty are infused in the Norwich DNA. So what can we do with the grace afforded us? Anything we want. For to use your gifts, and your grace, to give someone hope is the greatest legacy of all.

For the Record,

Jacque E. Day
Acting Editor


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