“I fell in love with the place,” says William L. “Bill” Brauer, seated in a chair in the Brauer Room. The stately space on the fourth floor of Christopher Newport Hall is named for his parents, Harrol and Elizabeth Brauer.
This familial connection to Christopher Newport University (CNU) runs deep within the Brauer line. Harrol Brauer was CNU’s initial rector following his work on the transitional board that existed when Christopher Newport College fell under the auspices of the College of William & Mary.
Bill Brauer served as CNU’s executive vice president, chief financial officer and counselor to President Paul S. Trible. Brauer’s work at the university began on January 1, 1992, ending with his retirement on January 1, 2021. His career, spanning almost 30 years, speaks to his overall passion for shaping and reinforcing strong structures from repurposed materials.
Living in Hampton and Williamsburg most of his life, Brauer first attended Virginia Tech and transferred to CNU. After his CNU graduation in May 1977, he pursued an MBA program and learned about the search for an associate provost at the university. As one of two finalists, Brauer heard from a committee member that “the finance position opened up,” and he was hired in that area instead.
“I was actually hired by CNU President Dr. Anthony Santoro and worked with him for four years before Paul came in 1996. We started transforming CNU into what it is today. It was fun, creating this university and making decisions.
“With a lot of support from Richmond in terms of finances and getting funding — interest rates and construction costs were low, so it was the perfect time to build,” Brauer says, regarding his work with Trible. “Paul had wonderful connections in Richmond, from his political days. I was in charge of administration and finance functions, including operation of the student center and the Ferguson Center,” Brauer recalls. “I enjoyed it. In fact, I got to knock down all of my old classroom buildings.”
Throughout his CNU time as both a student and an employee, Brauer appreciated seeing the campus become “a school of choice” because of its features, accolades and “academic reputation that has increased year after year.” Before his retirement in 2021, his final project involvement was the Mary M. Torggler Fine Arts Center.
During his time at CNU, Brauer met Walter Segaloff, founder of An Achievable Dream (AAD). Brauer enjoyed woodworking as a hobby, with a shop area in his home, and one day, Segaloff asked him to construct two Adirondack chairs for an upcoming AAD auction. Over the years, Brauer has made more than 20 such chairs to be auctioned off for the same purposes.
After retirement, Brauer wondered if he should continue with furniture creation or try something else working with wood. “I came across pen-making,” he says, realizing that he already had what was needed for the job.
Brauer has fashioned and gifted more than 80 pens. “What I do is buy the hardware and buy [or make] the wood. The wood becomes blanks, finish, piston device to squeeze the parts together. I’ve gotten to know a lot about wood [and different kinds of pen kits],” he says.
“I love tying the wood personally to an individual. I’ve given away all of my pens. I make them for people I know, and, in the case of Governor Glenn Youngkin, his writing instrument features a piece of the old Ratcliffe gymnasium floor, where Youngkin once won a state championship during grade school. Each pen is unique and personalized to someone I know and respect. I want it to be very special.”
Following a friend’s military service in Vietnam, Brauer gifted him with an acrylic pen bearing the image of a Vietnam War ribbon and a helicopter. Some of his other works include wood from an oak found in a primeval English bog, wood from a Maker’s Mark barrel and even wood from the USS Constitution.
Brauer emphasized the sustainability of the wood he buys to create his pens. “If it’s a wood, like, from the USS Constitution”— an objective that started as a joke but eventually became a real pen — “it’s because of maintenance or renovation work and wood being removed, and there was no other use for it,” he says.
“I have made a pen from olive wood from Bethlehem. When Bethlehem olive trees are trimmed, scraps of wood are either thrown out or companies buy them and turn them into blanks, and people like me buy and make pens out of them,” Brauer says
Since his retirement, Brauer remains busy, volunteering with multiple nonprofit organizations, including Riverside Health System, religious organizations and CNU. He and his wife Michelle have two adult sons, who are both married.
TO THE POINT:
William L. “Bill” Brauer