Tracy King leaves the UW Alumni Association after 10 years of remarkable growth.
Between the junior and senior seasons of Tracy King's UW football career, Coach Howie Odell called him into the coach's office and broke the bad news to him. King's services as a tight end were no longer required and he was moving King to the less glamorous position of offensive guard.
To most players, the move would have been a disappointment. But King recalls the opposite reaction. “I enjoyed that move more than anything else. I started every game my senior year.
“It’s the thing I felt best about, making a transition from one position to another completely different position and succeeding,” says the class of 1953 alumnus.
About 26 years later, Tracy King would make another transition on the UW team, this time shifting from his post as the UW’s insurance officer to become executive director of the UW Alumni Association.
It could have been a rough transition, but there is little doubt. that King has been a success at this post as well. Now, after 10 years as leader of all UW alumni, he is facing another transition—retirement on March 31.
The King years have been years of growth. When he started in 1979, the association had about 15,000 members. Today it totals almost 50,000. There were few geographic clubs in 1979 and no alumni groups organized by educational discipline, what we now call “academic affiliates.” Today there are 34 geographic clubs in 15 states and three foreign countries. There are 11 academic affiliates, including the newest group, Department of Architecture graduates.
“Over the past six years, we have averaged a 20 percent annual increase in membership and in revenue. There is no other public university alumni association that has that kind of growth.”
“Over the past six years, we have averaged a 20 percent annual increase in membership and in revenue. There is no other public university alumni association that has that kind of growth over the same period,” he says.
But ask him what he is proudest of, and King will not cite such statistics. He talks instead of people—his staff and the strong network of alumni volunteers—as fostering the most pride in his heart.
“Working with a board of trustees takes a special kind of personality,” says Bob Story, UWAA president in 1986-87. “Tracy was able to bring people aboard. He was able to assimilate different ideas and make people feel they have contributed.”
Story knew King when both were undergraduates at the UW. In the early ’50s on campus, King was well known as a football player. “I don’t think his personality has changed that much at all. He was a big man on campus, but he was low keyed about it,” Story recalls.
Story says King still has the same sense of humor, a rather self-deprecating manner that finds King telling stories on himself. When King launches into a humorous tale, he is able to put other people at ease, adds Ellen Sweeney-Clawson, who has worked with King at the association for five years.
“Everything I've learned about working with people has come from watching Tracy in action. He makes a person feel genuinely important and feel that his or her ideas are important.”
Ellen Sweeney-Clawson, UW Alumni Association
“Tracy can laugh at himself. Many other people just can’t do that,” she explains. “Everything I’ve learned about working with people has come from watching Tracy in action. He makes a person feel genuinely important and feel that his or her ideas are important.”
Sweeney-Clawson encountered the King touch when she first arrived at the alumni house. She thought she would help her new boss by screening his phone calls. ”I’d ask who was calling, and when Tracy found out, he told me, ‘Don’t ask who is on the phone. I don’t want people to think I am screening any phone calls. I am here to talk to anyone.”‘
King’s open door policy has paid big dividends. “He makes people know how important they are to this institution,” Sweeney-Clawson adds. “He has made a large number of friends for this institution.”
Learning these skills didn’t come easy for King, who recalls being “overwhelmed” by the UW when he arrived for spring quarter in 1950. “I was completely lost for the first quarter. It was huge. There were 15,000 students. I’d never seen so many people in one place.”
Born in 1931, King grew up in Bellingham, Aberdeen and Vancouver, Wash., and came to the UW on a football scholarship. As many alumni can attest, the transition from high school to university isn’t easy. King recalls getting a D in one of his first classes. “I thought they were going to flunk me out of school. So then I went to work.”
He majored in business administration and recalls the impact of some of his business professors, especially Henry Buechel, Arthur Cannon and Ted Barnowe. As a Beta Theta Pi, he lived in a fraternity with many other student athletes, and still counts as his closest friends those who shared the football field with him.
Once out of school, King served for two years in the Army, including an 18-month stint in Korea in 1954 and 1955. He then spent 15 years in the insurance business for New York Life. He kept his ties to the University, including service on the alumni association board in the late 1960s. In 1973 that connection became stronger. “I always liked the University. It was a homey place for me. When I got to the point when I wanted to change careers, I came out here and made some inquiries.”
King became the University’s retirement and insurance officer, a position he says he thoroughly enjoyed, but later the alumni association attracted his eye.
“He kept calling me every few months,” jokes former Executive Director John Bisset, who is now in the travel business in Chicago. “‘Isn’t it time you retired John,’ he’d say. ‘I’d like your job.”‘
Bisset, who was far too young to retire, left the association in 1979 to launch his travel firm. He says King was the best candidate for the job. “I was just pleased as hell when he got it.”
The association’s financial situation was troubling when King began his tenure. “The biggest challenge we faced was how many of our resources to put into alumni relations versus building up our membership and marketing efforts,” King remembers. He feels that perhaps too much time and effort were devoted to serving alumni through reunions, clubs and other groups, “hence our income from membership and marketing lagged.”
“The strength of the alumni association is so important in terms of issues such as the legislative process. Tracy laid the groundwork for us to continually expand our political involvement.”
Bob Story, UWAA president in 1986-87
Income began to “lag” for the University as a whole as budget crises in the legislature resulted in reduced state budgets. The University “was hurting in the legislature and was trying to get a development effort going,” King recalls. “Alumni relations is the foundation for both those efforts.”
King strengthened that foundation by building alumni interest groups based on academic departments and entire colleges. Today there are academic affiliates in building construction, business administration, engineering, the executive MBA program, business graduate school, library and information science, international studies, nursing, social work and forest resources.
The UW Alumni Association has founded other special interest groups, such as the Young Alumni Club and the Mentor Program.
The happy changes for the alumni association are mirrored by successes for the University as a whole. The state has increased the amount it devotes to higher education, although UW officials say there still is a long way to go. In addition, the University has successfully launched its $250-million Campaign for Washington.
“The most dramatic effect on the University over the past 10 years has been Bill Gerberding,” says King. “He’s been the skipper through some real difficult times and kept the boat afloat. I think he’s done an outstanding job of heading up the University through some periods of real difficulty.”
As for King’s contributions, he is modest. “I would like to think that our efforts here have contributed to the private giving and the political successes of the University.”
Story, who leads the Washington Alumni Advocates, is more forthcoming. “The strength of the alumni association is so important in terms of issues such as the legislative process. Tracy laid the groundwork for us to continually expand our political involvement.”
University Relations Vice President Jim Collier agrees. “The association has grown in significant ways during his decade of service. He has been a loyal citizen of the University community and has dedicated his years to the well-being of former students everywhere,” he says.
But does all this growth come at some cost? “Universities are relying more and more on their alumni association to get their message across,” comments Bisset. “They are playing more and more of a key role. Higher education has become an intense business. They are asking everybody to do more.”
King agrees that serving alumni and the University has become a big business. “We’ve grown from a warm, fuzzy, small organization to a much bigger, more complicated, no-nonsense organization. I kind of feel we have a tiger by the tail. It’s much more complicated.”
While this growth is welcomed, King says the stress it creates is one reason he is leaving his post. “I’m not willing to work continuous long hours and under a lot of pressure anymore. This is not a job where I feel the top guy can coast.”
King says he will do some projects on a part-time basis for the University after stepping down, and he says his retirement will be filled with home projects and travel with his wife, Joan. “Heaven knows, my golf game needs some work.”
Looking at the University he has served for more than 17 years, King admits, “It may not be the school for everyone. It’s dramatically different from when I went to school. It’s tough. It’s large. It’s somewhat impersonal because of its size.
“Today it represents one of the real premier higher education institutions in the country. I feel lucky, almost overwhelmed, to be a small part of it.”
In honor of Tracy King’s service, the UW Alumni Association has established the Tracy King Scholarship Fund, which will support deserving undergraduate students. If you wish to make a contribution, please contact Connie Bartlett of the President’s Club at (206) 543-2565.