Retiring Brevard President Reflects on Career, Pfeiffer

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The Rev. Dr. David C. Joyce ’75 will step down as President of Brevard College in December. He has held that post since 2012 and feels now that the time is right to retire, having also served as President of Ripon College (2003-2011) and Union College (1996-2003). He holds multiple advanced degrees, including a M.Div. from Yale University (1978); a M.S. in Psychology from N.C. State University (1988); and an Ed.D. in Human Resource Development from Vanderbilt University (1995).

As his service at Brevard College demonstrates, Joyce’s fundraising experience solidified his reputation as a leader adept at turning around financially challenged institutions while underwriting their capital and other needs. All told, he has worked in higher education for more than 40 years. His only departure from higher education happened in the early 1990s, when he directed an $8 million campaign for congregational development organized by the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Joyce and his wife, Lynne, will remain in Brevard. In addition to traveling and mountain biking, they are looking forward to spending more time with their daughter, Anna Bracco, their son-in-law Nicolas, and their grandsons, Lucas and William.

No matter what he does next, Joyce will likely never retire from advocating for small liberal arts colleges. As a first-generation college student at Pfeiffer, he knows first-hand the value proposition of a high-touch educational experience. In the years following his graduation from Pfeiffer in 1975, he worked at the college in multiple capacities, including College Minister (1981-1985) and VP of Advancement (1985-1989).

“There’s a distinction that small liberal arts colleges bring to the landscape of higher education,” Joyce said. “They exemplify the positive impact a highly personalized education can have on students and the community.

Lynne, who has always served as a partner during my presidencies, and I have dedicated our lives to this sector. We will always treasure the time we devoted to this endeavor.”

Pfeiffer occupies a special place in Joyce’s heart. That’s because he benefited from its liberal arts approach as a student – and because the college paved the way for him to rise to the highest rank in college administration.

Before Pfeiffer was on Joyce’s radar, he was a self-proclaimed military brat, moving with his family to a different location each time his Marine stepfather was transferred to a new duty station. The transfers became so frequent that Joyce attended five high schools in as many locations.

Joyce never stayed at one high school long enough for anyone to recognize his potential. A guidance counselor at a high school he attended near Camp LeJeune even told him that he wasn’t college material.

The Rev. Tommy Faggart ’60 – a pastor at nearby Swansboro (N.C.) United Methodist Church, where Joyce was attending – couldn’t have disagreed more when he learned of that assessment. Remembering his own Pfeiffer College experience, he sensed that Joyce would excel at the school as well. So, on the way to a family reunion in Kannapolis, Faggart dropped Joyce off at Pfeiffer’s Misenheimer campus for a weekend visit.

Joyce was so taken with the school that he applied at once and was accepted. “I was so excited to get in that I never looked back,” he said.

Joyce said that he “jumped into Pfeiffer with both feet” as a psychology major who also played soccer, participated in student government, and worked both on campus and at a church in Oakboro. The school loved him back in just about every way that mattered: While Joyce got into trouble for debating a teacher in high school, for example, he found that such behavior at Pfeiffer was both accepted and encouraged. He debated Rev. Dr. Phil Pharr ’61, a professor of religion and philosophy, during one of Pharr’s classes. Pharr invited him to come back to his office and discuss the issue further.

“I thought, ‘This is not going to go down well,’” Joyce recalled. “Yet, when I sat down with Phil in his office, he kept saying, ‘David, that’s what college is all about. By debating me, you’re giving other students permission to take me on, too.’ After that, I realized that’s what education is about: interaction and challenge. I thought, ‘I love college.’”

Pharr and Joyce would become close friends through the years. The professor served as Joyce’s best man when he married Lynne, and later, Joyce officiated Pharr’s wedding.

“A close friend of Lynne’s, Shelia Thompson, who worked in the Business Office at Pfeiffer at the time, set Lynne and me up on a blind date,” Joyce said. “She later served as Lynne’s Matron of Honor at our wedding in the Henry Pfeiffer Chapel. You just can’t make this stuff up!”

While Joyce was attending Pfeiffer, he aspired to become a United Methodist minister. He applied to and was accepted by Yale Divinity School, where he earned an M.Div. in 1978.

Dr. Robert “Fred” West, a Yale alumnus who taught Joyce’s Pfeiffer history class, encouraged him to attend his alma mater. “I didn’t have the good sense to think, ‘Oh, you can’t go to an Ivy League school (because) you have no money and you come from a school that not a lot of people have heard of,’” Joyce said.

Following his graduation from Yale, Joyce landed an administrative position at Elon College, where he fell in love with higher ed administration, still dreaming of becoming a college minister.

So, when Pfeiffer offered him the position of College Minister in 1981, he jumped at the opportunity. He not only officiated campus services but also had teaching and counseling responsibilities.

Joyce’s duties at Pfeiffer kept expanding. In time, they came to include traveling with Dr. Cameron West, Pfeiffer’s President from 1978 until 1988, to fundraising appointments because West had undergone eye surgery and was unable to drive. “A couple of times, he said, ‘Well, David, why don’t you go visit this donor as you’ve already met him/her. Just say we need you to make this gift,” Joyce said.

In 1985, President West appointed Joyce Pfeiffer’s VP of Advancement, and he relinquished the duties of college minister and most of his teaching responsibilities.

Graduates of liberal arts colleges are known for knowing how to learn and how to adapt.  With the help of a consultant and West’s mentorship, Joyce learned the craft of fundraising in a hurry, from putting together a feasibility study for a comprehensive campaign to running one. The campaign’s goal, the largest in Pfeiffer history at the time, was $11 million. “We blew through that goal…and then some,” Joyce said.

For Joyce, “we” is an important word. He has always valued a team effort, especially as he assumed, over the course of his career, the presidency of three colleges. Just ask his wife, Lynne.

Lynne grew up in Stanly County. She comes from a family of many Pfeiffer graduates. Like David, she views Dr. West and his wife Grace, also deceased, as important mentors. The Wests demonstrated how effective the “couple in partnership” model could be for a college presidency.

Over the years, Lynne, in addition to owning a leadership consulting business, has been David’s partner as a volunteer for many duties tied to the presidencies he has held.  As a facilitator for a Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) program for presidential spouses and partners, she has regularly passed on much of what she’s learned. In fact, Shannon Bullard, the spouse of Dr. Scott Bullard, Pfeiffer’s current president, is one of the latest beneficiaries of Lynne’s willingness to pass on the wisdom that she gleaned from her experiences. The Bullards – along with dozens of other couples – participated in the CIC’s seminar for new presidents and their spouses in January 2020.

“David and I have always partnered because it works for us,” Lynne said. “We love making a difference in the lives of students.”

Rev. Dr. Cam West, the son of former Pfeiffer President West, has a special understanding of Joyce’s career contributions and his love for Pfeiffer. Now a colleague, as President of Huntingdon College, the younger West was also one of Joyce’s classmates at Yale Divinity School. He recalled his father telling him that Joyce “loved Pfeiffer greatly.”

“That made David a highly effective development officer for the college,” West said.

“My career has been a ministry for empowering students to make a positive difference in the world,” Joyce noted. “For 25 years, I have told students that ‘commencement is not the end of your story, it is the beginning.’ I see my retirement in the same light.”


Ken Keuffel, who authored this article, has served as Pfeiffer’s Assistant Director of Communications since December 2019. He welcomes story ideas from Pfeiffer’s faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends. The form for submitting story ideas is at www.pfeiffer.edu/newsform.​