Published July 1, 2019
One day in mid-summer of 2013, two people from Washington, D.C., stopped by UB for a close look at the campus. An advance team from the White House, they were scouting out various cities and locations for a possible presidential speaking event.
“So we showed them around,” says Bill Regan, UB’s longtime director of university events who will retire on July 5 after 39 years at the university. “They were particularly interested in the venues at the Center for the Arts and Alumni Arena.”
No information was provided as to what actually would happen, regarding a date, location or time, Regan says. “It was kind of ‘More later.’
“We got word, literally, weeks later,” he recalls. “It was about a week prior to the possible date of the event: Thursday, Aug. 22. The next morning, Friday, things got firmed up for a speech by President Obama on that date in Alumni Arena’s Main Gym.
“That put us into whirling-dervish mode, with respect to getting the many departments across the university who comprise our special events team assembled and prepared to take on their roles, this time for the president of the United States to speak at UB,” he says.
State police and other first responders were some of the many details coordinated for President Barack Obama's visit to UB in 2013. Photo: Douglas Levere
A member of the UB community holds up her ticket to see President Barack Obama speak at Alumni Arena. Photo: Douglas Levere
Regan and his team were quickly in contact with White House advance professionals, who plan events around the world.
“We agreed to deliver all the support we would normally dedicate to speakers’ events,” Regan says. “Everything we had in our arsenal to provide, we would provide, and then some. There was a lot to do. And we had to do it in a very compressed timeframe.”
Regan’s team set up the Ed Wright Practice Facility in Alumni Arena for the Secret Service to assemble and meet with law enforcement, emergency responders and other agencies from across Western New York, and map out their extensive security plans. With less than a week to work with, registration sites for UB students and faculty and staff were launched to enter a lottery to win prized tickets to see the president.
“Classes had not yet started, so we were keeping our fingers crossed we would have enough students, faculty and staff to actually register to claim the number of seats that were allocated for them, and which UB was expected to fill.”
Once the presidential event was confirmed, Regan recalls that during an initial leadership planning meeting in Capen Hall, “There was a moment when all of us looked at each other silently asking, ‘What are we getting ourselves into?’ It was a daunting assignment we had just taken on, and there was anxiety, but true to form we came together beautifully and pulled it off.”
Regan, who started working at UB in 1980 in the catering department, attributes his longevity and passion for managing university events to the constant newness of the job.
“You have an ever-changing speakers’ series, and each year there are whole new combinations of events ranging from conferences, celebrations, departmental programs, groundbreakings, building openings, press conferences and community events that come on the horizon that present new challenges and opportunities,” he says. “And because so much of what we do involves our students, there is always that tonic of youthful enthusiasm to surround yourself with.
“What we can do, institutionally — what we’ve done in the time that I’ve been working here — is just amazing,” he says. “I have had a front-row seat to events that have helped define UB for nearly 40 years. It’s been a great ride”
Most important, are the people, says Regan, whose family moved to Buffalo from Gainesville, Florida, in 1964.
“I have enjoyed working with so many different people at UB, and I have always felt everyone whom our office worked together with was part of the team. Everybody contributes something, everybody has something to offer.
“One of the benefits of being at a larger university is having an excellent office staff, who have helped provide the framework for getting the big events organized,” he says. “The team starts in my office and extends across departments throughout the university. I am so indebted to countless people for their efforts over a great number of years.”
Much of events management is about planning and logistics, Regan states. “But it all revolves around service. Office of University Events staff members can tell you attention to detail is paramount, and that success starts with everyone staying grounded in a service-oriented approach.”
Bill Regan reviews details with Susan Rice before her Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration address in 2018. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki
Bill Regan welcomes the hardy souls who turned out for the 49th annual Millard Fillmore Commemoration event at Forest Lawn Cemetery. Photo: Douglas Levere
Bill Regan makes sure everything runs smoothly during the conferring of degrees at the College of Arts and Sciences' commencement. Photo Douglas Levere
Bill Regan delivers welcoming remarks at the 2018 event marking the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day and Veterans Day. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi
Bill Regan walks between lines of graduates as they prepare to enter the 2019 College of Arts and Sciences' commencement ceremony in Alumni Arena. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki
During his presidency, Steven Sample recognized that UB needed to get alumni and members of the community back to campus after the massive build-out of the North Campus during the 1970s, Regan says. “He believed one way to do that was through a speaker series that would work to draw alumni and members of the public to the campus.”
The first few Distinguished Speaker Series (DSS) were themed around the power of the presidency. The inaugural season launched in 1987-88, with ABC White House correspondent Sam Donaldson, U.S. Sen. John Tower and Geraldine Ferraro, the first female vice presidential candidate.
Regan says programming the Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration, and eventually folding that event into the DSS “has been among the most rewarding initiatives for me because it has taught me so much about Martin Luther King’s legacy, civil rights, history and race relations.”
“Ed Jenkins, former faculty member in the Graduate School of Education, and the former chair of the Minority Faculty and Staff Association, started the annual MLK commemoration event in 1976. I had a chance to begin working with him on the programs in 1992 when I became the director of university events. The relationships I have been able to form with past and present members of the association have really added to my life.”
Regan also says the student choice speakers featured in the series have helped to build student interest and support for the DSS.
“Ultimately our series has been defined by featuring nationally and internationally renowned people from all walks of life who are out there shaping our world, and in their own ways charting our future,” he says.
Regan received his BA and MBA from UB, and his wife, Terry, and daughters, Darcy and Terese, also received their degrees from UB, as did many of his best friends. “So commencement has been part of my life since my earliest days at UB,” he says.
“Because of strong academic traditions, change comes slowly to commencement exercises, so it’s worth noting that it is always somebody new, coming on board, who scratches their head and says ‘Why are we doing it like this?’ My old colleague and friend, Dick Baldwin, who was associate director through 1998, was one of those people who was keen on looking for ways to add new wrinkles to the old ones.”
Regan notes that years ago, more than 1,000 students would graduate during University Commencement. “They would come forward to collect their commencement certificates and shake hands with the president — with no student introductions and just music playing,” he recalls. “There was a fear that if you stopped them to say their names we would elongate the ceremony to an uncomfortable length for everyone.
“So the students would just keep coming forward in their caps and gowns and shake hands,” he says. “If you were a parent in the audience, you would probably have no idea when your son or daughter was actually passing across the stage for their big moment.”
Regan says that when somebody asked, ‘Why do we do it this way?’ everyone took a step back.
“Then changes came: We introduced image magnification, and over the course of a couple of years of experimentation, we began introducing each student individually.
“That was 22 years ago, and those decisions seem obvious now,” he says. “More importantly, we found the changes didn’t slow us down at all and deepened everyone’s commencement experience.”
As everyone knows, the turnout for President Obama’s speech at UB, and the event itself, were amazing.
“The line of people ticketed to get in wound around the spine, from Flint Loop at Capen Hall going back to and around the Natural Sciences and Math buildings, up along Putnam toward Slee Hall,” Regan says. “It was kind of magical how it all worked out.
“I was confident we could pull it off, but, you’re knocked back on your heels when you get news that you’re going to host the sitting U.S. president in front of 8,500 persons and national media, and it’s less than a week away. We had two years to plan the visit from the Dalai Lama!
“But I was psyched up for it, and I said to everyone who was working with me, ‘Yes, we can do this, absolutely,’” he says.
“And you know, my confidence in what we can do as a campus certainly peaked when we had the Dalai Lama back in 2006, so I knew what we were capable of. I knew our office, along with all of the other departments that regularly help us pull off major events, have the skills and professional experience to do this. The President’s Office, along with everyone else, just rolled up their sleeves and got the job done.”
Regan says it is one more testament to the fact that UB can and will always rise to the occasion.
Bill has had an amazing career. He was always unflappable, creative and kind, and he worked hard to create opportunities for students, faculty and staff to meet the many important speakers he brought and to participate actively in the many events he staged. Congratulations!
When I was a student and wrote for The Spectrum, Bill was always so kind to us student journalists, always giving us exclusive journalistic access to speakers. He was so kind and caring, and we got to meet and interview some unbelievable people as a result. Thank you for that kind gesture, Bill. I wish you the best!
Congratulations on a job well done! No matter what event I attended at UB, including Obama and the Dalai Lama, I knew it would be first rate because you were at the helm. Enjoy your retirement.
Thanks and praise to Bill, who models the strength and best of UB. Besides great talent, humor and generosity, he has done us all proud with an admirable modesty and energy. Many thanks, and hopes he sticks around.
Bill: It has been a pleasure to have worked with you for so many years. You are a remarkable person. All the best to you in the future. Your help with Sidney Poitier will never be forgotten.
Jim Pappas — I finished up my career in January this year.
Congratulations and thanks to Bill for his years of admirable service to the entire UB community. It was always so wonderful working with Bill over the years. Here's wishing you all the best Bill — hope to run into you from time to time.
Years ago, when a faculty member in the Graduate School of Education passed away unexpectedly, we reached out to Bill for his guidance in planning a memorial tribute. I'll never forget Bill's wisdom, attention to detail and kindness during the entire process. Congratulations, Bill, on your legacy at UB. Enjoy your well-deserved retirement!