The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Campus celebrity Anna Billingsley to retire after 18 years at UMW

4 min read

Anna Billingsley and student, Cosima Pellis, pose together for a photo. | University of Mary Washington


News Editor

Anna Billingsley, associate vice president for University Relations, is retiring at the end of the spring semester after 18 years at the university. Billingsley is known for her emails and has become a campus celebrity over the years.

“I don’t know why they think I’m something because all I do is send out messages that other people tell me to send out,” she said. “I try to inject a little bit of personality, but that’s all I do.”

On Feb. 16 when she announced her retirement through email, social media sites were flooded with UMW students sharing their upset at her leaving.

Junior English major Kayla Basham posted to UMW’s meme page on Facebook that she was “devastated.”

“My initial reaction was that it was a joke because I feel like she always provides a sense of lightheartedness to whatever events are happening on campus,” said Basham. “I felt bad because she’s been the face of a lot of the school’s mistakes and she shouldn’t have been, but I think it was way easier to process all of the negative events happening at our school when they were announced to us through Anna and her emails.”

Billingsley even has a student-run fan account on Instagram.

“I started this account when AB sent the April Fool’s email last year, around that time she was catching a lot of hate from frustrated students about the content of her emails,” said the account owner of @annabillingsleyfanpage who asked to maintain their anonymity. “I was one of those frustrated students, so I emailed her and expressed my feelings, feelings that she validated and shared as a member of the university herself. We chatted over email for a bit and I ended up feeling really bad for her because UMW uses her as the messenger for a lot of hard communications, causing her to catch a lot of the backlash rather than the source of the communication itself. I made this page to create positivity around her emails and put students’ mindsets in a more positive space when approaching AB’s emails.”

Billingsley’s emails typically garner replies. When sent to both faculty and students, the messages reach around 5,000 people.

“Of course when I send out a message I always get responses … because it’s easy to just hit reply,” said Billingsley. “I’ll hear complaints and I’ll hear praise. I never send out a campus message about any topic without, minimum 2-3, maximum 20 people responding.”

Most responses are forwarded back to the original writer of the message.

“It’s a lot of pressure and a lot of stress, but I love it!” she said. “I told somebody the other day I might pull a Tom Brady and say I’m retiring but then no, I’m not really retiring. There’s really not an average day, but I think that’s why I like this job so much.”

Billingsley took over the job of sending emails from Marty Morrison, former director of media and public relations. Morrison also had a celebrity reputation at UMW.

Billingsley earned her bachelor’s degree from William & Mary and went on to get her master’s in journalism at American University. After her retirement, she plans to use her extra time to work on her own writing. 

“My first love, my passion, is writing,” she said. “I was a newspaper reporter for most of my career and I have a master’s degree in journalism. I just want to write things that I want to write; I don’t want to send other people’s messages. I haven’t had time to do any of my personal writing since I’ve been in this position.”

Billingsley has a side business writing obituaries, called The Last Word.

“I love writing obituaries because I feel like an obituary is really the last opportunity to let somebody shine and to really tell their life story, so I really enjoy doing that,” she said.

Billingsley is also looking forward to having more downtime.

“I hope to travel more and just relax a little bit,” she said. “This position has required that I’m on call 24/7 and I really take that seriously because I check my email, my voicemail on vacation, on weekends.”

The on-call nature of her job sometimes gets in the way of her life.

“I said to my husband, ‘this is the perfect example of why I need to retire,’” she said. “We had waited two and a half years to see Elton John in concert because we got the tickets for fall of 2019 and it was rescheduled twice. … We were there and I got a text about work during the concert, so I said ‘this is too much!’” 

Some students will mourn the loss of Billingsley’s name in their email inboxes.

“When AB retires, I will miss her playfulness when approaching messages,” said @annabillingsleyfanpage. “I didn’t realize how much of an impact she had until I started this account! Her fan page quickly gained traction and I was super surprised how many people followed, interacted and DMed this account. Her retirement is truly the end of an era.”

Billingsley hopes the UMW community will know that she is grateful.

“I just want people to know how much I appreciate how folks here have appreciated me,” she said. “It is bittersweet to be leaving this place that I’ve worked at for 18 years. I love the people and I love the place, and I’ll still be around.”