JACKSONVILLE —  Jacksonville State University President Bill Meehan told announced that he will retire next summer making public a decision that will end a 16-year stint as the chief executive of the institution.

The announcement surprised board members and caught faculty off guard, moving some to tears. Meehan has worked at the university for than 38 years, and in that time he developed a reputation for being both caring and competent, university employees say.

“There is just nobody else like him,” said Pam Stinson, who was hired by Meehan in 1986 and is now his executive secretary. “Everyone knows he is kind.”

Board chairman Jim Bennett has been a member of the board since 1985. He said that since Meehan was tapped as president, the university has completed a multi-million dollar fundraising campaign, developed its first doctoral program and enhanced its athletic programs.

“How do you replace somebody like that, who is very likeable and professional?” Bennett said. “He leaves such a large footprint.”

Meehan enrolled at JSU as a freshman in 1968, and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the university in 1972. He later earned a master’s in biology from JSU in 1976, and became an instructor in the biology department in 1977.

In 1999, Meehan earned a doctoral degree in higher education administration from the University of Alabama and served in a variety of administrative positions at JSU.

Today he lives in the president's house on campus with his wife, Beth. They are the parents of twin sons, Drew and Will, college students at Auburn University, and a daughter, Carol Grace, who attends Jacksonville High School.

He will retire July 1, according to a release from the university.

Early in Meehan’s career at JSU, the now-retired Theron Montgomery was president of the university and hired Meehan for several key roles.

“He is intelligent, honest and capable,” said Montgomery. “He is very dedicated to the student.”

Bennett said the university would immediately begin work to find Meehan’s replacement, noting that he would form a search committee comprised of JSU trustees and business leaders from across the state.

“This is one of the most critical decisions a board can make,” Bennett said.

University presidents have a range of responsibilities, which include everything from administering department heads, guiding the university to make sound financial decisions and representing the institution in the state Legislature. Retireduniversity history and foreign language department head Harvey Jackson said Meehan was known for managing well a variety of roles before he became the university president.

In 1990 the university was looking for someone who could be trusted to head a committee that would select a new dean for the history department, a matter that had divided faculty members. It tapped Meehan because he was respected by people on both sides of the issue, said Harvey.

“The two sides were adamantly opposed to each other,” said Jackson, who was selected for the job in the history department. “He already had that reputation on campus that he could be trusted.”

Jackson is also a member of The Anniston Star editorial board.

Tony Gravette is today the director of instructional media at JSU; he remembers when he met the president 10 years ago, while working as a graduate student. Gravette said that following a formal meeting on the the library’s 11th floor, Meehan stayed behind to help him collect chairs and move them to a nearby a room.

“I didn’t know him at all and he didn’t know me,” Gravette said, adding that he thinks Meehan commands respect and is “completely approachable.”

Few people remained in the meeting room by the time Meehan announced his retirement Monday. Few spoke and some said though they knew he would eventually leave, they didn’t know the news of his departure would come when it did.

“I could not have been more blessed by God to have this opportunity,” Meehan said just before the close of the meeting.

Prior to the announcement the board:

— Approved increased insurance cost for JSU employees, who will pay between $552 and  $1,032 per year for health insurance beginning the end of September, or the first of October, depending on employees’ pay schedule. The increase comes as the the cost of the Public Education Employee Health Insurance Program, PEEHIP, is increasing.

The Legislature picked up the increasing costs for employees in K-12 schools and for those who work in the two-year college system, but did not cover the expense for those who work at the three four-year institutions that rely on the plan.

“An insurance increase was inevitable,” said board member Thomas Dedrick. “This was the best way to do it.”

— Gave Meehan permission to negotiate a land swap between the university and the city of Jacksonville. The potential swap will involve the university-owned Eastwood School and Kitty Stone Elementary School properties and city-owned mill property.

— Approved an interim budget that includes $245,000 in state appropriations from the Legislature.

— Approved a $250,000 purchase of land northwest of the campus. The land may be used for future expansion, Meehan said.