William R. Battle

A Texas native, William R. Battle attended Texas Western University, now the University of Texas at El Paso, from 1941 to 1943 before joining the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was part of the crew that flew over the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay when Japan signed the surrender agreement with the Allies.

Battle, who followed his father into the insurance business, took a job with National Life and Accident Insurance Company in Nashville in 1948 after earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Iowa. He came to Roanoke in 1959 from Southwestern Life Insurance Company in Dallas.

He joined Shenandoah Life in 1959 as an actuary and was still serving as chairman of the executive committee of the board of directors when he died. He retired from the presidency in 1989, after leading Shenandoah Life through a period of significant growth. “He was an excellent administrator” and “a good, sound financial” executive, said Frank Clement, who picked Battle to succeed him as president in 1972.

“His greatest strength was in finance,” he said. Donna Musselwhite, a company spokeswoman who joined Shenandoah Life while Battle was president, called him “a very quiet and deliberate decision maker” who “inspired confidence in the employees” and in the community. “He seemed to genuinely care,” she said.

During Battle’s 17-year tenure as president, the company underwent both good and bad economic cycles. But overall, its insurance grew from $1.6 billion to more than $10 billion during that time, with assets tripling to $390 million.

“I think he provided excellent leadership over the years in a very steady and reliable manner,” said Willis M. “Wick” Anderson, who served for 25 years as general counsel and corporate secretary for Shenandoah Life. Battle came out of retirement from June to December last year to replace the man who succeeded him, Joseph Stephenson.

During his 35 years in Roanoke, he revealed a serious commitment to community involvement, both personal and corporate. He served on a variety of civic and corporate boards, including Community Hospital of the Roanoke Valley, the Salvation Army, Junior Achievement, and the Roanoke Symphony Society. He was also an elder at Second Presbyterian Church. He passed away in April 1994.

William R. Battle was inducted into the Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame in 1995.

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