“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
“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
“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
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
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.