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Plumeri tapped to lead homecoming parade

Each night, before Joe Plumeri (’66) goes to bed, he sets out the suit he plans to wear the next day: jacket, pants, shirt, tie, cufflinks, the works.

“I can’t wait to get up in the morning,” he says.

The morning of Oct. 28, 2006, Plumeri will get out of bed, don his suit and hop into a car at the head of the homecoming parade as its Grand Marshal. “It’s a big deal!” he says, with nothing but enthusiasm in his voice.

“What could be better than riding in the front of a parade?” he says. For a man who has done so much for his alma mater and the world of business, Plumeri is proud to be the leader of the homecoming parade. It is not a bad gig for someone who arrived on campus feeling out-of-place and playing halfback on scholarship for the Tribe football team.

“An Italian kid from the neighborhood going to William and Mary in 1962 was not normal,” he says. “In the ’60s, William and Mary was very Southern, very Virginian,” he adds. Playing football helped him to become comfortable during an unfamiliar, “nerve-wracking” time.

Plumeri gave up his football scholarship after his freshman year, but he remained at William and Mary. “I stuck with it and it was probably one of the better experiences of my life,” he says. He began a long affiliation with the College’s baseball team, for which he began playing in the outfield.
In many ways, he never really left the diamond. On campus, the Plumeri name is best-known for Plumeri Park, the home of Tribe baseball. His family also owns two minor-league baseball teams in New Jersey: one in Lakewood and another in his hometown of Trenton.

The stadium in Williamsburg, though, is not named for himself, but for his father. When the son comes to campus, the first place he goes is the stadium that bears his family name.

“Building Plumeri Park was in honor of my family,” he says. He always visits the stadium’s monument to his father—to “have a chat with my dad,” he says.

He also holds the Wren Building in particularly high regard. For Plumeri, the Wren is a symbol. As it was rebuilt time and again after fire and war, he also believes “people and companies need to be rebuilt, constantly undertaking self-evaluation,” he says. The willingness to change and test your assumptions is necessary for success, he believes.

Today, William and Mary is in a unique place between its past and its future, Plumeri believes. “I think that, as rich as the history of William and Mary is, you have to be careful that tradition doesn’t become your jailor. This is not a college of memories; it should be a college of dreams,” he says.

Plumeri is passionate about potential but reverent of the past. Rather than focusing on Washington and Jefferson, “we should be talking about the great presidents William and Mary will breed for the future,” he says.

When he took the reins of Willis Group, the oldest insurance broker in the world, in 2000, the company was approaching 200 years old, “and it acted like it,” he says. “Companies need to blend experience with youthful enthusiasm.” To him, history and tradition are most useful for the frame of reference they provide. He views the past not as a crutch but as a springboard.

Plumeri has done a remarkable job using his past at William and Mary as a springboard to support its future. He is a past member of the Alumni Association’s Board of Directors and currently serves on the College’s Board of Visitors. Apart from his generous donation to Tribe baseball, Plumeri has endowed scholarships and holds a fundraising golf tournament each year, among other efforts. Sticking with William and Mary was one of the best experiences of his life, but Plumeri says he feels even better about what he’s done for the school since.

“I think that life is all about dreaming. I’m 63 years old and I’m still a kid,” he says. That “kid” is proud to be at the front of this year’s homecoming parade—but riding in what?

“I would prefer a car that is big enough for people to see how honored and happy I am. Any car that illuminates my feelings would be the perfect car.”

It has been quite a ride for Joe Plumeri, from Trenton to Williamsburg and eventually to Manhattan, but he couldn’t imagine it any other way.

“I don’t know what my life would be like if the College weren’t a big part of it,” he says.

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