Child Abuse Prevention Services’ Bill McGuire retires

Beth Walton
The Asheville Citizen-Times

After getting involved in some hot-rod drag racing teenage shenanigans, Bill McGuire told officials at juvenile court that one day he would come back and run the place. So began a nearly five decade career in child advocacy.

McGuire, 74, retired as executive director of Child Abuse Prevention Services in March. He leaves behind a more financially sound organization, one better equipped to partner in a changing social service landscape, said Lynn Kieffer, a board member at CAPS.

A small Asheville-based nonprofit, the service supported some 10,000 people in 2014 with its school-based education and outreach programs, crisis counseling and adult training. Board chair Leslie Hansen is now serving as the interim executive director while CAPS searches for a new leader.

“(McGuire) just has a great heart and a real passion for this, and this is tough work,” said Kieffer. “He really pulled together the networks of agencies to make sure the children got what they needed.”

Although his 14 years as executive director of CAPS kept him in meetings and focused on spreadsheets, McGuire said he always tried to do small things to make a child’s recovery better.

McGuire will never forget a young girl who had been horribly raped. She would come in every Friday for counseling, but it wasn’t until McGuire put a life-sized toy pony in the waiting room that the girl opened up.

She would drag it down the hall to the therapy office and invite her counselor in for conversation, McGuire said. “Moments like those are priceless. She had a safe place to come and she had hope the bad stuff was over.”

During McGuire’s tenure, CAPS started a school-based prevention program to teach children skills to protect themselves, and recognize and avoid abuse. Last year, more than 9,200 students received the training.

“When I was a kid there was nothing like that,” said McGuire. “You can’t take away the bad things, but you can do prevention.”

“It was always my hope that we could work ourselves out of business,” McGuire added. “Every child really deserves a safe, healthy childhood free from abuse with the opportunity to realize his or her potential.”

When McGuire came to CAPS in 2002 after falling in love with Western North Carolina’s mountains, the agency had taken out a $50,000 bank loan and was “hemorrhaging money,” McGuire said. “It took a while to turn it around.”

Together, with a team of people, McGuire focused on raising funds and establishing the organization in the community. Today, CAPS operates on an annual budget of around $250,000 and has two full-time and three part-time employees. “I’ll miss the staff very much; they made it all go around,” McGuire said.

McGuire helped CAPS save money by switching from full-time to contract counselors. Through the cost-saving move was controversial, it ended up allowing CAPS to have a more flexible therapy schedule and see more children and parents.

Although the tragedy of child abuse will always stay with him, McGuire is an optimist and likes to focus on hope. At his house in Black Mountain, McGuire can’t stop smiling as he tells the stories of his coming of age. He laughs a lot and speaks with a pleasing Louisiana drawl.

The child of two journalists from New Orleans, McGuire said he was exposed to social issues at a young age. Although he didn’t want to go to college, he said his mother instilled some “Catholic guilt” in him and sent him off to Tulane.

A bit of a wanderer, McGuire also took classes at Louisiana Tech University, the University of New Orleans and Louisiana State University before graduating in 1964 with degrees in psychology and English. He did post graduate work at Loyola University and the Jackson School of Law.

McGuire worked a series of small jobs before stumbling into a position at the Louisiana state probation and parole office. He was in his 20s when he left his house one morning headed to an interview for a bartender position at a rooftop garden bar in the French Quarter.

While waiting for the meeting to start, McGuire ran into an old college friend working with youth in the criminal justice system. Before he knew it, McGuire was on staff. He would go on to serve as director of the New Orleans Juvenile Court.

“I felt like I was on top of the world and I loved it,” he said. “We talked about collaboration a lot. At that time, if you wanted to get anything accomplished, you had to work together.”

Before taking the position at CAPS, McGuire also worked as a federal probation officer in Jackson, Mississippi, and later as the assistant director of the Jefferson Parish Department of Juvenile Service in Metairie, Louisiana.

He won several awards for his work and focused on alternative sentencing for minors and incorporating education and therapy into juvenile detention systems.

“I know it sounds trite, but children are our future and all too often we forget that,” McGuire said. “Our children are our future and they deserve the best.”

In retirement, McGuire looks forward to spending more time with his family, especially his five grandchildren. He and his wife, Roi, also plan to travel. They just purchased an RV and are going on a cross-country road trip this summer. Next year, their goal is to be seasonal park rangers.

“I’m kind of out of the loop now, but I’m not so sure that’s a bad place to be,” he said.