William H. Ross Sr., a longtime Vanderbilt employee known for his warmth, smile and contagious good cheer while making his rounds delivering mail on the university campus, died Wednesday, June 25. He was 84.
Ross began working at Vanderbilt at age 20 and spent his entire 58-year career with Vanderbilt Mail Services, retiring in late 2009. He was known by staff, faculty and students for his story-telling abilities and willingness to lend an ear and offer counsel or encouragement, as well as for his trademark farewell, “Have a good day, and make the best of it.” Mail Services’ annual Employee of the Year Award is named in Ross’ honor.
“God gave everybody a talent, and mine is loving people,” Ross said in a 2007 Tennessean profile. “This is part of my ministry. If I can’t help somebody, what’s the use of living? I may not have the money, but if I can help, then life is good.”
Ross was a co-recipient of the very first Commodore Award given by then-Chancellor Joe B. Wyatt in 1990. The award, Vanderbilt’s highest staff honor, is given annually in recognition of significant achievement in Vanderbilt’s pursuit of excellence in education, health care, research and community service.
“I consider him my friend,” Wyatt told the Tennessean in 2007. “He’s just a bright light in everyone’s life. We all trusted, and rightfully so, William’s ability to do his job in a very high-quality way. Rain, sleet, snow – he’d always arrive with the same attitude.”
Ross was an amateur magician and enjoyed entertaining young patients at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. His sleight-of-hand tricks even once garnered him an appearance on the national children’s television program The Bozo Show. He also sang with his cousins as part of the Nashville-based gospel group The Ross Brothers, frequently touring the East Coast and performing on the radio.
“Mr. Ross always brought a smile to your face,” said Frank Gladu, former assistant vice chancellor for business services at Vanderbilt. “He was perpetually positive, and his enthusiasm was infectious. Everyone he met during his daily rounds was greeted with a smile and his joyous presence. [rquote]But his trademark was his parting advice: ‘Have a good day, and make the best of it!’ He truly brightened the day for all those he encountered.”[/rquote]
“Mr. Ross was a very humble man who believed in helping everyone,” said Mickey Anglea, Vanderbilt postmaster and associate director of business services. “He tried to bring a smile to everyone he met, either through God’s word, his magic tricks, his singing or prison ministries. He will be remembered by former students he touched, as well as by the faculty and staff he served over his 58 years of exemplary service to the Vanderbilt community and Vanderbilt Mail Services. Mr. Ross is in better place, and he will forever hold a place in our hearts.”
A public viewing for Ross is scheduled for Saturday, June 28, from 1 to 6 p.m. at Smith Brothers Funeral Directors, 706 Monroe St. in Nashville. Contact Smith Brothers at (615) 726-1476.
A visitation with the family will be held at 6 p.m. Sunday, June 29, at the Merry Street Church of God, 2416 Merry St. in Nashville, with burial to follow at 7 p.m. Contact the church at (615) 320-5775.