Bill Ergle, RC Legend

by minton on February 23, 2021

One of Roanoke College’s greats passed away last Friday (2/19/21). Bill Ergle, long-time faculty member and chair of the MCSP department, was 81 and living in Atlanta near his beloved children, Christi and Mike.

Roanoke College got to know Bill quite well over his 44 years of teaching and service. He was chair of what is now the MCSP department for 15 years. Under his leadership, the size and prestige of the department increased dramatically. One of his most important contributions to the department was the culture of everybody being able to teach all courses, a principle that has kept the department’s teaching fresh and innovative. He was instrumental in the creation of the first computer science course taught at the college, and was an early director of the Computing Center. For many years, he taught all of the upper-level statistics courses, preparing an impressive number of students for graduate school in statistics despite the lack of a statistics major. Bill had an important voice in all campus wide discussions. One of my first impressions of the college was that even in intense discussions of policy or curriculum, there was laughter and (mostly) good will. This is one of Bill’s influences on his colleagues.

I got to know Bill when he hired me in 1986. He had just taken over as chair of the department after the sudden passing of Ron Walpole. He was a great mentor, always available for counsel or just listening to young-faculty complaints. I trusted his judgment and valued his friendship. In those early years, I used to take a free Tuesday and drive to Augusta, Georgia, for a practice round of the Masters golf tournament. Bill was delighted when I started listing the “International Conference on Applied Projectile Motion” in my annual report, and would comment on the importance of the conference. There are publications of faculty activities that list my ICAPM attendance. There was almost always mischief brewing on the second floor of Trexler with Bill around. He and his wife Joy often had the faculty over to their house in Roanoke and later their place at Smith Mountain Lake for some good fun.

In his 44 years teaching at Roanoke, thousands of students got to know Bill’s great sense of humor and on occasion his impatience with laziness. As a Ph.D. statistician, you might think that teaching Stat 101 year after year would get old, but Bill always enjoyed (most of) the students. He wrote an introductory stat book that we used for years. Students could always get help from Bill, but they quickly found out that he did in fact lock the door when class started.

For many confused and increasingly uncomfortable recent students, the name Ergle has presented a puzzle. The door labelled “William David Ergle Lavatory” looks like it might lead to a restroom, but is there time to Google “lavatory” to make sure? Bill enjoyed the “honor” of that sign, which was completely a show of affection from the department. It’s too bad that these students never got to know the man behind the legend. I am still not clear if the publishers of the Roanoke College Magazine article (see below) at his retirement ever took a good look at the image on the coffee mug in the foreground.

Bill with Kelly Minton

Bill was an old school man of principle and great loyalty. In a Facebook post his daughter Christi listed his loyalties to God, family, education (Roanoke College, Roanoke County School Board, and others), and Clemson (his alma mater and eternal rooting interest). You could joke with him about Clemson, but you were not going to get away with messing with the other three. We talked about family often, especially his pride in and concern for his two children. He took a great interest in my kids and passed on helpful lessons he had learned, usually wrapped in his trademark sense of humor.

Bill was fun. At a retirement dinner for him, the department faculty took turns reciting poems and limericks written for Bill (not to be repeated here), sang a song written for him (“There’s No One Like Bill” to the tune of Roger Miller’s “King of the Road”), and put various outfits on the Flat Bill that we made with Joy’s help. Very silly and quite wonderful.

For those who got to know Bill, the world was a better and more enjoyable place. We thank him for giving us that, perhaps the greatest gift any of us can give. A toast to you, Bill Ergle.