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Dial Center History

Well-known Orlando lawyer and SunBank founder William Dial and his family made CLAS a $500,000 gift to endow the Center for Written and Oral Communication (CWOC). Copyright Alumni CLASNotes, 1998.

William and Grace Dial
William and Grace Dial

Born in Madison, Florida in 1907, William Dial grew up in Gainesville and worked his way through college and law school at UF. Hired by an Orlando law firm after graduation, Dial relocated to Orlando in the early

1930s, where he met his wife, Grace. They had two daughters, Joan and Patricia.

Once established in Central Florida, Dial quickly became involved in state and community affairs, says his daughter Joan Dial Ruffier.

“He was the attorney for just about everything,” she remembers, “the railroad, the newspaper and many of the big companies.”

In addition, he served on the state Road Board and the state Board of Control, the precursor to the Board of Regents. Dial is perhaps best known for bringing I-4 through downtown Orlando, in opposition to original plans which called for the new interstate to by-pass the metropolitan area completely. The location of I-4 was one of the biggest factors that convinced Walt Disney to build his new theme park in the area.

In the late 1950s, after the second-in-command at what was then called the First National Bank of Orlando died in a tragic accident, Dial, who had written the state’s banking laws and been the bank’s legal council for many years, was asked to fill the position. He accepted, ending a successful law career to begin an equally impressive career in banking.

Dial’s influence at First National resulted in the company buying up smaller banks around Florida, eventually transforming itself into the much larger and very successful SunBank (now SunTrust Bank).

“I am persuaded this is the perfect gift for our family to make,” Ruffier says of the UF endowment. “My father has been part of the University of Florida Foundation almost since its inception and has served as Foundation President. He has always been proud of the university and its past successes, and through the CWOC he can be a tangible part of its future as well.”

Dial is now 90, and his wife died seven years ago. Ruffier, who earned a BA in English from UF in 1961 and an MBA from Rollins College in 1982, has become the spokesperson for the family’s gift, appropriate since she shares her father’s dedication to enhancing the educational and economic well-being of the state of Florida.

In addition to working in the Orlando area as a CPA, Ruffier was the first woman to be elected Chair of the Board of Regents (1987-89), and she became the first female President of the Florida Foundation last June. She was named a UF “Distinguished Alumna” in 1994 and a UF “Alumna of Outstanding Achievement” in 1997. Ruffier has lent her expertise to boards and committees of many organizations and foundations including the Federal Reserve, the Florida Progress and Florida Power Corporations, the Winter Park Hospital and the Shands Healthcare Corporation.

Since SunBank had already established both a professorship and an eminent scholar chair in banking in William Dial’s name at UF’s College of Business (1977 and 1986, respectively), the Dial family decided to create the new endowment in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, where both Dial and Ruffier received undergraduate degrees.

“My father was a good communicator,” Ruffier explains. “He was a marvelous speaker and he wrote well, too,” she says, “so this gift to the Center for Written and Oral Communication seemed like something very suitable for him, especially because it transcends all disciplines. We hope the endowment can provide a base from which the Center can eventually attract more funding to help it achieve its immense potential.”

Founded in 1996, The Center for Written and Oral Communication teaches students to write and speak clearly in a variety of academic and professional fields. Courses provide training in everything from writing resumes, cover letters and graduate school applications to creating proposals, submitting grants and negotiating the job market and workplace professionally.

Since its inception, the Center has worked with College of Liberal Arts and Sciences departments such as Zoology, Psychology and Chemistry as well as departments in other colleges including Business, Engineering and Health Sciences.

The Center’s hands-on, pragmatic mission is not lost on Ruffier, who says that her father has always been a very “practical and down-to-earth” person. “I know he’d appreciate the fact that CWOC teaches skills that people can graduate with and take to work immediately,” she says.