Field of Opportunity

Meta Braymer, vice president for economic development and regional engagement, retired in June after nearly a quarter century at UMW.

When Meta Braymer met with then-Mary Washington President William M. Anderson Jr. for a job interview in 1989, she was excited about the possibility of helping to expand educational opportunities for students. But she also was a bit nervous about commuting daily from her home in Richmond.

Thousands of commuter miles and hundreds of audio books later, Braymer is glad she took the job. Hired in 1990 as associate vice president for academic affairs and director of graduate and continuing education, Braymer oversaw the development of the University’s Stafford campus, which opened its doors to students in 1999.

“When we opened that campus, it was absolutely thrilling to stand at the door and hear people say thank you for the ability to earn a degree close to home,” Braymer said. She credits a top-notch team of faculty and staff for bringing the Stafford campus to fruition.

What started as 48 acres of vacant farmland now includes two state-of-the-art buildings with 23 classrooms, six computer labs, 30 faculty offices, a library, University Hall, and more.

“I had to decide how in the world to start a new campus,” Braymer said. “We all learned it together because nobody here had started a new campus, either. We were starting with no campus, no buildings, no students, nothing.”

Bill Anderson remembers that what Braymer did have was a wealth of experience in continuing education and a passion and enthusiasm for her job that inspired everyone around her.

“I just knew she was the right person,” said Anderson, UMW president from 1983 until his retirement in 2006. “It turned out to be one of the very best moves we ever made.”

Braymer was so well regarded that in 2003 she became just the second person to be awarded UMW’s highest honor, the Washington Medallion for Service to the University of Mary Washington. In another important role, she has been actively involved in the Women’s Colloquium for Professional Women, which she founded in 1994.

“We need more women leaders,” said Braymer, who recalled that when Anderson took her on a tour to meet leaders in the area during that 1989 interview, she met no women. “You still don’t see enough women at the table.”

Braymer at the 2006 groundbreaking for the North Building, the second building at the Stafford campus.

Her daughter, Meredith, was 8 when Braymer embarked on her Mary Washington career, and Braymer felt the same tug many mothers experience when driven by both career and home life.

“I missed the middle-of-the-day violin concerts,” Braymer said, remembering that in the early weeks of the Mary Washington job, Meredith had nightmares about her mother dying. But in 1999, when the Stafford campus opened, Meredith wrote a school paper about how proud she was to see her mother, clad in a bright green ensemble among a sea of men in dark gray suits, embodying a woman in a leadership role.

A coffee cup on Braymer’s desk reads “she who must be obeyed,” but Braymer comes across as anything but a tyrannical leader.

“I just think Meta is the consummate academic professional,” said Anna Billingsley, UMW associate vice president for university relations. “She has a lot of vision and an ability to bring out the best in people.”

After successfully transforming the Stafford campus from idea to reality, in July 2011 Braymer was named UMW vice president for economic development and regional engagement. This spring the Board of Visitors resolved that in gratitude for her contributions to the University and the greater community, on her retirement Braymer would have “emerita” added to her title. In May, the UMW Center for Economic Development awarded the first Meta R. Braymer Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award, named to honor Braymer’s commitment not only to economic development but also to increasing opportunities for women.

Braymer’s career included service on Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine’s Advisory Transition Policy Committee for Higher Education. She was a founding and board member of the Virginia Foundation for Women and a member of the Virginia Executive Committee to the American Council on Education for the Office of Women in Higher Education.

A native of Mississippi and a huge Elvis fan, she earned a bachelor’s degree from Maryville College, a master’s degree from The Ohio State University, and a doctorate in English from the University of Tennessee.

As Braymer prepared for retirement, she spoke of the books she plans to read and the stories she plans to write, the unfinished needlepoint project, a church mission trip, and the upcoming 40th wedding anniversary she plans to celebrate with her husband, John, on a Baltic cruise. And, she said, she is by no means finished with UMW.

Braymer plans to make that drive from Richmond to Fredericksburg about once a week starting in September. Her eyes light up when she talks about the “work in progress” of linking the University even more strongly with the local business community and economic development in the area. As she was about the birth of the Stafford campus, she’s excited about “getting to sit at the table and watch the magic happen.”