Former William & Mary Rector Hays T. Watkins LL.D. ’82, a longtime supporter of the university and father of former Vice Rector H. Thomas Watkins III ’74, died July 29, 2022.

Hays Watkins had a long career in the railroad and transportation industry, most recently serving as chairman and CEO of CSX Corporation. He served on the W&M Board of Visitors from 1984 to 1993 and as rector from 1987 to 1993, during which time the university completed a successful $150 million campaign and celebrated the 300th anniversary of the charter. 

“Hays and his family have been integral to the growth of William & Mary over the past five decades,” said William & Mary Katherine A. Rowe. “We mourn with the Watkinses and honor Hays’ legacy by celebrating his distinguished leadership. He made serving W&M a family tradition. We will see the effects of his foresight and support ripple throughout the university for generations to come.”

From left: W&M President Paul Verkuil ’61, Walter Zable ’37, LL.D. ’78, Hays Watkins LL.D. ’82 and Betty Zable ’40 at the Zable Stadium dedication in 1990. (University Archives photo)

Hays Watkins began his involvement at W&M as a member and chair of the School of Business Foundation Board from 1976 to 1985. In 1982, the university presented him with an honorary degree at Charter Day, and two years later, the Raymond A. Mason School of Business awarded him its highest honor, the Clarke Medallion.

The Watkins family, whose W&M connections run three generations deep, has made significant financial gifts to the university throughout the years, donating to such areas as the Fund for William & Mary and W&M Athletics. Together, Hays and Tom Watkins fully endowed the Hays T. Watkins Professorship at the business school. The Watkins family also supported the construction of Alan B. Miller Hall, where the third floor is now named the Watkins Faculty Center. 

A 2018 interview with Hays and Tom Watkins

W&M Libraries conducted an oral history with Hays Watkins in 2016, and the audio is available online. In 2018, the university recorded a video interview with Hays and Tom Watkins reflecting on how the son’s enrollment at W&M inspired his father’s involvement. Tom Watkins, who received an undergraduate degree in business administration and accounting from W&M, was appointed as a member of the Board of Visitors in 2013 and served as vice rector from 2015 to 2018. He also chaired the search committee for the university’s 28th president, and two of his children are W&M graduates.

According to an obituary, Hays Watkins served in the U.S. Army before embarking on a long career with variations of what would become the global transportation company CSX. He started as a staff analyst for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O) and rose through the ranks until finally becoming president and chief executive officer of C&O and Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in 1971 and then chairman in 1973. When the company became Chessie System Inc. in 1975, he became its chairman, president and CEO. When it merged with Seaboard Coast Line to become CSX Corp, he became its president and co-CEO and finally CEO before retiring in 1991. For his work, he was inducted into the National Railroad Hall of Fame.

Hays T. Watkins LL.D. ’82 (third from left, front row) with other members of W&M’s Board of Visitors in 1987. (University Archives photo)

In addition to his service to W&M, Hays Watkins was a member of several company boards, including Black & Decker, Westinghouse, the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and the YMCA of Greater Richmond, which presented him a Lifetime Achievement Award.

He earned his undergraduate degree from Bowling Green Business University (now part of Western Kentucky University) and a Master of Business Administration degree from Northwestern University.

In addition to Tom Watkins, Hays Watkins is survived by his wife, Betty; three grandchildren, Catherine Watkins ’05, Caroline Mueller and Hays Thomas Watkins IV ’11; and a great-grandson, Hays Thomas Watkins V. A service will be held on Aug. 5 at 2 p.m. in Powell Chapel at the Second Baptist Church, 9614 River Rd. in Richmond.

, Senior Associate Director of University News