Campbell University celebrated graduation day for chancellor Norman A. Wiggins Aug. 5 in a two-hour service characterized by admiration, humor, and praise. The program featured hymns typically sung during Campbell’s graduation ceremonies, and more than one speaker noted that Wiggins spoke of death as “graduation.”
Wiggins, 83, who served as president for 38 years before “retiring” to become chancellor, was known for his devotion to Christ and to his wife, Millie; to Campbell and to his country.
He was a member of “the greatest generation,” noted multiple speakers, a Marine who participated in the capture of Iwo Jima. Jack Britt, vice-president for advancement at Campbell and a personal friend, spoke of Wiggins as a “living legend,” a “statesman,” and an outstanding professor of law.
David Courie, a nephew, spoke of Wiggins’ love for his family, and his ability to put others first and to give others his full attention.
Roy J. Smith, former executive director of the Baptist State Convention, recalled Wiggins’ tenure as president of the BSC. He was a great Christian educator, a great Baptist statesman, and a man of great humor, Smith said.
Jerry Wallace, who worked closely with Wiggins for 35 years before succeeding him as president, spoke of how Wiggins saw his tenure at Campbell as a divine mission, a calling from God. For that reason, he said, Wiggins turned down multiple opportunities to go to larger and more prestigious schools, devoting himself to growing Campbell from college to university status. The addition of graduate schools in law, pharmacy, and divinity all faced opposition, Wallace said, but all have proven to be impressive success stories.
Wallace highlighted a little-known aspect of Wiggins’ legacy, Campbell’s adoption of Tunku Abdul Rahman College in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Seeing the opportunity as both a missionary and academic enterprise, Wiggins worked diligently to develop a partnership through which more than 11,000 Malaysians of Chinese and Indian descent have received Campbell degrees, and many have become Christians.
Of all the impressive statements made about Wiggins during the service, two were particularly memorable. Michael Simmons, Wiggins’ pastor at Buies Creek Baptist Church, recalled a visit with Wiggins shortly before his death. Wiggins acknowledged that he might not live to leave the hospital, Simmons said, but was satisfied to leave it in God’s hands. “I don’t belong to me,” Wiggins said, “I belong to him.”
And, in a brief eulogy, Norman Ajiboye spoke of how Wiggins helped his father come from Nigeria, receive a first-rate medical education, and return to Nigeria to help underserved people. The Ajiboyes became so close to the Wigginses that they often spent Christmas together, and Ajiboye called them “Grandma and Grandpa Wiggins.”
Ajiboye, who is now a neurosurgery resident at Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, spoke of Wiggins’ tireless work ethic and said “he showed us that the price of greatness is responsibility.”
From his early-rising habits to his indefatigable efforts in behalf of Campbell University, Norman A. Wiggins truly demonstrated both responsibility and greatness, and people the world over are better because of it.