President James Woodin Laurie, simply put, helped shift Trinity from a barren campus on the brink of closure to a respected regional university.
Laurie, president from 1951-1970, helped move Trinity from its Woodlawn campus to the current Skyline location, partnering with famed architect O’Neil Ford to carry out a vision that would transform an old rock quarry into a polished, mid-century modern masterpiece. During Laurie’s tenure, Trinity would erect 42 buildings on the new site, largely creating the Trinity we see today.
But Laurie’s achievements rose beyond these physical foundations. Under Laurie’s leadership, the University also increased its endowment from less than $1 million to $42 million, expanded enrollment, established a graduate school and improved the quality of faculty and students.
During the first months of his presidency, Laurie presided over Trinity's closing days on the Woodlawn campus. In a time of confusion and insecurity, Laurie encountered a stream of people anxious to register complaints and offer solutions. Attempting to create a positive atmosphere, he called a faculty and staff meeting in the University chapel.
There, he told his audience, "At the moment I don't presume to know a great deal, but I am learning fast. What happened before I came is ancient history. Do your own job and don't worry about anyone else." His words helped alleviate tensions and rejuvenate community morale.
"I am convinced that there is a divine pattern and that success in life ultimately is measured by the accuracy with which we find and follow it.” - James Laurie;
Driven by a work ethic rooted in a theological sense of vocation, Laurie viewed the presidency as a "calling" rather than an administrative position.
Laurie frequently invoked the image of the pioneer in describing the position of university president. In particular, he perceived the move from the Woodlawn campus as comparable to a wagon train of settlers leaving familiar surroundings in order to break new paths and develop new territories.
Laurie made frequent use of the phrase “frontiers of the spirit," especially in the field of higher education, in referring to Trinity’s potential to change society and stimulate the endless search for truth. Enlarging on the pioneer motif, Laurie envisioned a university informed by Christian values and characterized by academic excellence.
To provide adequate facilities for students, faculty, and staff, Laurie initiated a series of financial campaigns during the first decade on Trinity Hill. Unlike some presidents of struggling church-related colleges, he never emphasized institutional poverty as an incentive for contributions. Rather, he stressed the opportunity to participate in a venture destined to succeed. Describing the future role of Trinity University in Christian higher education in private conversations and public addresses, Laurie proclaimed his vision of an institution that would bring recognition to benefactors and provide quality education for countless student generations. Laurie told a group of church people, for instance, "Someone down in Texas is going to have the thrill of a lifetime in building a Science Building for Trinity, for twelve hundred students a year for the next hundred years will go to confront God's universe in a Christian setting. It will be a thrilling investment."
In advance of Trinity’s centennial celebration in 1969, Laurie announced that Trinity would immediately embark on a $50 million academic and campus development campaign. Guided by architect O’Neil Ford, Trinity devised a master campus plan that featured integrated architecture and use of the land only for academic, student housing, and recreational purposes. Plans called for the continuing use of "Bridgeport Pink" bricks, which would became the hallmark of Trinity buildings, walls, and curbs. Resisting mass parking areas, the architects devised small cluster areas where automobiles could be discretely accommodated. As a result of such planning, the Trinity expansion process was completed expeditiously, with consideration for environmental and aesthetic principles.
By the end of his presidency in 1970, Laurie had also raised faculty salaries, overseen the integration of campus throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and entered the University into a covenant with the Presbyterian Church (USA) that separated the two entities legally but honored their joint legacy moving forward.