Linda Livingstone drew praise from colleagues and friends a day after being named Baylor University’s 15th president.

Karen Petree Smith knew Livingstone as the coordinator of outdoor activities for vacation Bible school at Waco’s Calvary Baptist Church.

“That’s what I remember, is how caring and sweet (Livingstone and her husband, Brad) were,” said Petree Smith, who attended the summer camp as a child. “When they moved away, it was really hard on our church.”

Livingstone spent 1991 to 2002 in Baylor’s department of management, and in 1998, she became associate dean of graduate programs for Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business.

“My brother and I were pretty shy, and most of the kids at our church went to Midway and we didn’t,” Petree Smith said. “It was hard for us to make friends, so the Livingstones were always really great to pay extra special attention to those kids.”

Petree Smith, a 2007 Baylor graduate who identifies as a sexual assault survivor, helped organize a demonstration at the university for fellow survivors in June. She said she is excited for Livingstone and hopeful to meet with her.

Livingstone will be Baylor’s first female president and start June 1 after a stint as dean of the George Washington University School of Business. She held a similar role at Pepperdine University from 2002 to 2014.

“It is not the first time in my career I have been the first woman in doing something, so I can certainly take that on,” Livingstone said in a media teleconference Tuesday.

The Rev. Julie Pennington-Russell, former pastor of Calvary Baptist, said Livingstone was co-chair of the pastor search committee when Pennington-Russell accepted the role in 1998.

Baylor’s next president played a large role in the church’s “period of significant renewal and change,” Pennington-Russell said.

“Linda has a considerable capacity to absorb chaos and to give back calm and to speak words of hope,” she said. “She’s able to maintain a hopeful imagination in the midst of difficult circumstances.”

The chaos Livingstone is expected to manage at Baylor includes fallout from a sexual assault scandal that has resulted in lawsuits, investigations and heat from donors and Texas legislators.

Bears for Leadership Reform, an organized group of high-profile donors that has sharply criticized regents’ handling of the situation, issued a statement Tuesday night congratulating Livingstone and expressing hope to collaborate with her.

“From all that I’ve read and heard, I will give the board a compliment that I think they made a good choice,” said John Eddie Williams, Bears for Leadership Reform president and namesake donor of Baylor’s football field and law school library, on Wednesday.

When asked, Williams said he does not see it as Livingstone’s role to facilitate common ground between the donor group and regents.

“She has not been involved in what’s gone on in the past,” he said. “I think that she needs to make the appropriate steps to help the Baylor family heal, and I would appreciate the opportunity to explain to her what we mean by the appropriate steps, talking about transparency and accountability. I think (organizing a meeting with Baylor regents and Bears for Leadership Reform) would put her in an awkward situation because she serves at the pleasure of the board.”

Drayton McLane, another Bears for Leadership Reform member and the football stadium’s namesake, served on the presidential search committee.

“We began with Baylor’s mission in mind and based our search on the Christian values that Baylor stands for,” McLane said, in part, in a Baylor press release. “That set the criteria for the type of individual we were looking for. Dr. Livingstone met all our requirements.”

Livingstone, a Perkins, Oklahoma, native who received bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from Oklahoma State University, has background and expertise that will benefit her in the new role, said Blaine McCormick, chairman of Baylor’s department of management. He said Livingstone has published work in prestigious scholarly journals.

“She certainly has a deep knowledge in the field of management, and then 15-plus years of personal managerial experience in situations at the dean level and above,” McCormick said. “As a body of knowledge, coupled with her own individual practice and expertise, I would hope that would be an effective combination.”

McCormick also said Livingstone has been popular with and accessible to her colleagues. She had an open-door policy for former colleagues during her time at Pepperdine and George Washington, McCormick said.

‘Highly approachable’

“The Linda Livingstone that I know has always been highly approachable,” he said.

Pepperdine President Andrew K. Benton also extended his congratulations Wednesday.

“As a person of deep faith and enormous integrity, she will bring with her leadership a strong work ethic, superior strategic thinking and a keen sense of what it takes to be a top Christian university,” Benton said by email. “She and her family will always be valued members of our Pepperdine community, and we wish them all the best as Linda goes ‘home’ to Baylor. Congratulations, President Livingstone.”

Kendall Artz, chairman of entrepreneurship studies at Baylor, said Livingstone hired him into the business school, then served as his mentor, even after she went to Pepperdine.

“I have nothing but really positive things to say about her. . . . Linda is a collaborative leader,” Artz said. “She knows her mind, and she knows where she wants to go, but she’s not dogmatic. She’s very willing to listen to other people’s opinions and to formulate a response based on others’ opinions that will result in, hopefully, the best outcome.”

Pennington-Russell, the former Calvary Baptist pastor, is now senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Washington D.C., where Livingstone is a member.

“You never get a sense when you’re with Linda that anything is on fire,” she said. “It may indeed be on fire, but when you’re with Linda, you get the sense that it will be OK. I cannot imagine a better person to step into this leadership role at this particular time in Baylor’s history.”

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