Retiring VP of Finance Saluted for Integrity and Benevolence

 

“How many times have I shared a heart-wrenching story of a student in dire need, and with absolutely no fanfare, no intent to draw attention to his benevolence, Harold Preston has reached down into the coffers and somehow, somewhere, found what is needed,” said Dr. Pam Williford, dean of the Irvin School of Education, as she addressed faculty, staff, and friends of Harold Preston during a retirement luncheon May 1, 2014.

Preston, senior vice president of finance and operations at Hardin-Simmons University, will be retiring after almost 23 years. Close to 300 people attended the farewell luncheon in Van Ellis Theatre, many of them sharing remembrances of his generosity tempered with good-humored jabs at his renowned tightfistedness.

“As you can see, we have too much time on our hands,” remarked Preston as he examined the high attendance from the podium. Referring to comment cards laid on the tables for well-wishers, he asked everyone to fill them out. “That’s a pledge card for our new campaign,” he jested and then quickly threatened to pass out financial statements for review.

Preston came to HSU as a student, earning a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in 1969 and a Master of Business Administration degree in 1972 after his military service. While a student, he served in the ROTC and was on the HSU golf team.

HSU President Dr. Lanny Hall worked as a fellow vice president with Preston at Howard Payne University. When Hall was named 13th president of Hardin-Simmons University, he convinced Preston to turn his talents to his alma mater.

“I knew he had the tenacity, the temperament, and the ability to do this job. I also knew that he had two degrees from HSU and that he loved this institution. When I presented the opportunity to return to The Forty Acres, he answered affirmatively and I knew he would do an excellent job,” said Hall.

In attendance at the luncheon were members of the Board of Trustees, financial officers from universities across Texas, representatives of financial institutions with whom Preston has worked, HSU faculty and staff, and members of Preston’s family.

HSU president emeritus Dr. Jesse Fletcher offered the benediction. Former HSU president Dr. Craig Turner and Abilene Christian University Chancellor Dr. Royce Money sent letters of well-wishes, which were read aloud by Hall. President emeritus and chancellor of HPU Dr. Don Newbury gave congratulatory remarks.

“Show of hands, how many here think of Harold Preston as a penny pincher,” asked Newbury, also a humorist, columnist, and former journalism professor. “I think he’s more of a farthing fondler than a penny pincher,” he joked, explaining that a farthing is even less than a British “penny.”

On a serious note, Newbury said it was a sad day for him when Preston broke the news that he was going to Hardin-Simmons.

“HPU was in the black and he was one of the reasons for that. Thank God for people like Harold Preston, he redefines integrity and caring with a zeal for his work,” said Newbury.

Hall cites Preston’s most significant contribution to HSU as his hard-working and diligent effort to improve the financial condition of the university. 

“He has worked hard to focus on efficiency in university operations, with great attention to the bottom line. Under his financial leadership, the university’s debt is at its lowest level in 22 years. Given the growth in programming over this time, that is remarkable,” said Hall prior to the event.

Dean Williford believes Preston’s greatest legacy has been his help of those in great need, including many students of the university.

“A single mom, a student teacher in the Irvin School of Education, would have had to drop out of student teaching for lack of funds to care of her child’s essentials,” said Williford, addressing Preston and the theatre full of supporters.

“You dug deep and met the need. Her sincere joy and gratitude brought me to tears. A few days later, my phone rang. The caller’s voice spoke these words: ‘Dr. Williford, you’re talking to the next English teacher at Breckenridge High School.’ Harold, your character has no doubt been shaped by the Master who teaches us how to give to those in need.”

 

More on Harold Preston:

Harold Preston’s influence can be seen in institutions across Texas as he mentored many finance officers over the last 25 years. He has served at two Texas Baptist universities and is a veteran of the Vietnam War, serving in the U.S. Army as a 1st Lieutenant in a field artillery unit.

Preston has been a mentor to many university business officers throughout his career, investing much time in helping others tackle the complex job. Over the last 13 years, he has hosted periodic meetings of the chief finance officers, controllers, IT directors, maintenance directors, human resource directors, and financial aid directors for five institutions.

Other contributions and involvements beyond HSU include serving as the financial reader for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, a volunteer job he has held since 1991. In 2007, SACS honored him with the James T. Rogers Meritorious Service Award.

An avid golfer, Preston has added to the fundraising successes of dozens of golf tournaments over the years, participating in the HSU Cowboy Classic, the Joe Black Golf Classic, and the Lettermen Golf Tournament to benefit HSU athletics.

Beyond his victories as a budget-conscience financial officer for HSU, Preston has also served First Baptist Church of Abilene on numerous committees and as a teacher in adult Sunday school classes for more than 20 years.

Preston and his wife Susan, a retired nurse practitioner, have two children. Their son Matt and daughter-in-law Shona live in Abilene and have three children, Claire, Laura, and Luke. Their son Ben and his wife Melissa live in Portland, Oregon.

Preston will retire May 31, 2014, after 22 years with HSU.

 

 

  • A Princeton Review Best Western College
  • Council for Christian Colleges & Universities  
  • Center for Student Opportunity: Promoting a College-Bound Culture
  • US News Best Colleges
  • Military Friendly
  • Colleges of Distinction
  • College Choice Best Christian Colleges and University
  • University and College Accountability Network