A native of California and a Dallas-area resident for almost 50 years, Dr. Bill J. Priest – the founding chancellor of the Dallas County Community College District – was a renowned expert in higher education, and he built a legacy of leadership that continues today in DCCCD and across the United States.
From 1965 until his retirement in 1981, Priest guided the creation and development of the district, which comprises seven individually-accredited colleges, five community education campuses, Dallas Colleges Online and other locations across DCCCD, which have served almost 3 million students since the district was founded. Those colleges are Brookhaven, Cedar Valley, Eastfield, El Centro (the district's first college), Mountain View, North Lake and Richland.
Priest was born in French Camp, near Stockton, Calif., where his family had settled before the gold rush. He graduated early from high school, attended Modesto Junior College and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley on a baseball scholarship. After the war, Priest earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from UC-Berkeley and did post-doctoral studies at Columbia University. He taught history at a community college near Oakland, Calif., before entering administration at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif.
A nationally recognized leader and consultant in the field of education, DCCCD's chancellor emeritus also served community and junior colleges through his involvement with many professional organizations, including his role as board chairman of the American Council on Education and president of the American Association of Community Colleges; he also helped found the League for Innovation in the Community College.
Several educational entities are named in his honor: the Bill J. Priest Institute for Economic Development (now the Bill J. Priest Campus of El Centro College), which celebrated its 25th anniversary in fall 2014; and the Bill J. Priest Center for Community College Education at the University of North Texas. The Bill J. Priest Administration Building at American River College also was named in his honor; Priest was the college's first president (from 1955-1964) and became the first superintendent of the Los Rios Junior College District (Calif.) in 1964, the year before he started his tenure as DCCCD's first chancellor.
Although the community college district was a major part of Priest's life, he also had a lifelong love for baseball. He played professional baseball as a right-handed pitcher for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics and was inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame at the University of California at Berkeley.
Additionally, he served his country as an intelligence officer for the United States Navy in the Philippines and post-war Japan, entering active duty immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was among the first Americans to visit Hiroshima after the atomic bombing.
Dr. Priest died on Jan. 31, 2014, at the age of 97. The DCCCD family, as well as community members, colleagues and friends, held
a tribute in his honor on April 22, 2015, to celebrate his life.