By Billy Liggett | Photo by Bennett Scarborough
His tie off, the top button of his shirt relieved, J. Bradley Creed could finally take a load off in the business suite at PNC Arena, site of that night’s Carolina Hurricanes-St. Louis Blues hockey game.
After two straight days of speeches, hand-shaking, small talk, big talk and questions, Creed — chosen three weeks earlier as Campbell University’s fifth president — said watching professional hockey was the closest he’d come to “relaxation” since arriving in Buies Creek for his first official meet-and-greet event on Jan. 29. Asked about the whirlwind trip, his only scheduled public event before he officially takes over on July 1, Creed exhaled and smiled.
“It’s been great. Busy, but great,” he said moments before a Canes goal drowned out the rest of his answer. “It’s going to take a while to put names to all the faces I’ve met, so I just hope everyone will be patient with me. I’ve had a great time both days; I’m energized by the people here. And I’ll sure sleep well tonight.”
That so many were eager to meet Campbell’s next president — the crowd for his opening speech to faculty and staff overflowed Butler Chapel — can be explained by the rarity of Creed’s election. When he is sworn in, Creed will be only the fifth president in Campbell’s 128-year history. By comparison, UNC-Chapel Hill has had 20 presidents and chancellors in that same timespan, and N.C. State (founded the same year as Campbell) has had 18.
“I had colleagues tell me there was a misprint in my announcement,” Creed said in his introductory speech to faculty and staff. “They said there should be a ‘one’ in front of that ‘five.’ No, I’ll be the fifth president … which alone tells you about the strong, sustained leadership this school is used to.”
Creed himself is an accomplished leader and is no stranger to mission-driven institutions like Campbell. A nationally-recognized historian of religion, Creed will remain as provost and executive vice president at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., through the spring semester. Before Samford, he served as dean of The George W. Truett Seminary at Baylor University in his home state of Texas.
He will be Campbell’s first “outsider” president — founder J.A. Campbell named his son Leslie Campbell as his successor, President No. 3 Norman A. Wiggins was a Campbell graduate and current President Jerry Wallace served as a professor and administrator at Campbell under Wiggins for over 30 years before taking over in 2003. The search was Campbell’s first national search — headed by a committee of trustees, faculty, staff, alumni and students and managed by an outside agency — yet Creed’s election on Jan. 2 came a full two to three months before the anticipated selection date.
“Just from his resume and our initial investigation of him, it was clear he was a strong candidate before we ever met him,” said Ben Thompson, chairman of the Board of Trustees and director of the search committee. “We talked to a number of outstanding candidates, but Dr. Creed rose to the top initially. Just in those first five minutes during his first interview, he made everyone feel at ease. I had the sense in my heart, and I think many others on the committee did as well, that God led us to the right candidate.”
Creed and his wife, Kathy, flew to North Carolina for his election on Jan. 2, and that afternoon, he spoke to media and met more of the administration. Their daughter Carrie Grace joined them three weeks later for the two-day event, which also included stops at a few barbecue joints and a quick tour of Raleigh and other neighboring areas.
“The school has been very hospitable and warm from the beginning,” Creed said. “We felt a very strong calling to this place, and we’re very excited about this and looking forward to the days ahead.”
One of the first questions lobbed at Creed and his wife during a luncheon with student leaders in the Alumni Room at Marshbanks Hall had nothing to do with Creed’s career or his plans for Campbell.
One student simply wanted to know the story of how a young J. Bradley met his future wife. The answer involved two kids from two Texas towns just minutes apart. J. Bradley’s father was Kathy’s dentist since she was 4. Before she attended Baylor University, her dentist suggested she call his son.
She never did, of course, but the two ran into each other at First Baptist Church in Waco. “I know you. You’re Brad Creed,” she told the young religion major at the time. “Your dad’s my dentist.”
“Why didn’t you call me?” was Creed’s response.
“That was in October of that year,” Creed told the students. “We were married the following August.”
The questions became a little more thought-provoking and forward-thinking as the luncheon went on. When asked about what he’d like to change about Campbell, Creed was careful to avoid sounding like a man ready to come in and shake things up.
“I’m not like a developer who comes in and says he’s going to tear this and this down and start all over,” he told the crowd of about 25 students. “I’m more like a farmer, and I realize there’s already activity in the soil here. I’m here trying to see what will best cooperate with that soil and improve upon it. I want to maximize the strengths here.
“Obviously, there are some things we need to address right away,” he added. “And I’m going to do that. But I’m also going to spend a lot of time listening.”
The students asked him about his thoughts on Greek Life, which is still fairly new with five social fraternities and sororities popping up on campus in the last two years. His answer — it’s important to have groups where a student feels like he or she belongs, whether it’s a fraternity or any other type of club or group on campus.
As for the possibility of a new student center — “I sense that this is a priority,” Creed said. “But by taking kind of a ‘windshield’ tour of the campus, I can see something like that is missing. There’s a lot of interest and support for it.”
Creed mentions Texas a lot when talking about his first impressions of Buies Creek and all of central North Carolina. Jacksonville, Texas, he says, is located in the heart of the Piney Woods region of the state. Like the Piedmont, it’s stocked with thick pine forests and rolling hills, small one-stoplight towns and hole-in-the-wall barbecue places (though the ones in Texas specialize in beef rather than pork).
“Harnett County looks a whole lot like the county I grew up in,” he said, staring down at the rink during the second intermission of his first NHL game in person. “The few times we’ve been here, it’s just confirmed more about the decision that’s been made. We’re looking forward to July 1. It already feels like home here.”
J. Bradley Creed is currently provost, executive vice president, and professor of religion at Samford University, a private Christian university in Birmingham, Ala.
During his 12 years as Samford’s provost, Creed has led multiple transformational initiatives, including the launch of the university’s College of Health Sciences in 2013 and the addition of more than two-dozen new or upgraded undergraduate and graduate programs. He also played a key role in strategic enrollment efforts designed to increase the size, retention and academic quality of the undergraduate student body.
Prior to joining Samford, Creed was professor of Christian history, associate dean and dean at the George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Earlier in his career, he served as pastor of churches in Texas and Louisiana.
A Jacksonville, Texas, native, Creed received a bachelor of arts in religion from Baylor University, graduating cum laude. He earned his Master of Divinity and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
Creed’s wife, Kathy, is an educator by training and previously was a public school teacher and administrator in Texas and Louisiana. The Creeds’ family includes son Charles, of Plano, Texas; daughter Carrie Grace, a first-year student at Samford; and one grandson, James Noble Creed. Their daughter, Caitlin, died in 2007 during her freshman year in college.
He has run 40 road races, including marathons and half marathons, over the last 10 years in nine states and provinces. In the last four out of five years, he has run more than 1,200 miles per year.
His previous jobs include working at two funeral homes, a discount store, a plastics manufacturing plant, a bookstore and an electric supply company. He has also sold insulation, hauled hay and driven a school bus.
He enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, backpacking, bicycling and kayaking.
He likes sports and is an enthusiastic supporter of his school’s teams. He is also a NASCAR fan and attends the races at Talladega Superspeedway every year.
He and his wife, Kathy, enjoy hosting students and other guests in their home. This past semester at Samford University they hosted a weekly student-led Bible study and discussion group sponsored by Samford’s Office of Spiritual Life.