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William Kingsbury, CEO-elect of Masonic Villages, is pictured on the retirement campus on Wednesday, June 12, 2019.

On his first day on the job at a law firm, William Kingsbury was to attend a board meeting of a major client, Masonic Villages.

His boss gave him a simple instruction — don’t speak unless spoken to.

Despite that stern warning, Kingsbury says he got a good initial feeling about the retirement community and its charitable mission.

Since that meeting in 1995, Kingsbury has been involved with every major decision for Masonic Villages, including adding locations around the state and expanding its offerings at the campus west of Elizabethtown Borough.

Along the way, Kingsbury says he came to deeply admire the guiding philosophy of Masonic Villages, even though he was only ever serving as its lawyer.

But after years as outside counsel, Kingsbury is poised to become the ultimate insider as be prepares to become Masonic Villages’ chief executive officer.

Kingsbury became CEO-elect May 1. He will drop the “elect” from his title Dec. 1 upon the retirement of Joseph Murphy, who has been senior executive for the organization since 1983.

Kingsbury, who is married and has a son in college and a daughter in high school, commutes by train to Elizabethtown from his Valley Forge home. He plans to move to the area once his daughter graduates in two years.

“It wasn’t without some anxiety that I made the decision,” Kingsbury said. “But once I did and once I got started, I was absolutely confident it was the best decision”

From lawyer to CEO

Kingsbury, who has a degree in business administration and finance from Villanova University, got a job at a Philadelphia law firm after earning a law degree from the university’s School of Law in 1995.

In addition to advising Masonic Villages, Kingsbury’s practice included working with other nonprofit and for-profit organizations on operations and governance issues in addition to helping with complex transactions, capital projects and contracts.

Kingsbury says he was proud of the work he did as an attorney and wasn’t looking to make a change. When Murphy suggested he could succeed him as CEO, Kingsbury described thinking it was a “crazy” idea.

But as he considered it more, Kingsbury said it seemed to make more sense since he was already a Mason who did volunteer work for the society.

“There was no other client-attorney relationship that was like the one I had with Masonic Villages. It was qualitatively different.”

Plus, the 49-year-old Kingsbury said the idea of working for a mission-based organization appealed to him, saying it offered a “different kind of dividend” than the for-profit businesses he advised.

Kingsbury said he wanted “a chance to actually make a difference and participate in a mission-based organization.”

In addition to the charitable care and services Masonic Villages offers to people who can’t afford it — which totaled $45.5 million in 2018 — Kingsbury said he admired how the organization maintained its services and employee counts during the lean years of the Great Recession (2007-09).

“That always resonated with me,” he said.

A growing organization

Masonic Villages is a nonprofit of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania. The Freemasons are considered the largest and oldest fraternity in the world.

Pennsylvania’s first Masonic Home was founded in Philadelphia in 1871, then later moved to Lafayette Hill. The Elizabethtown site was established in 1910, and the Grand Lodge Hall in Elizabethtown opened in 1913,

Today, Masonic Villages provides retirement, personal care and nursing services for 3,000 residents at five locations in Pennsylvania. The site west of Elizabethtown is its largest. It also operates community outreach and children’s services.

In Elizabethtown, Masonic Villages is nearing the end of a building spree that has renovated buildings while adding townhomes and other new residences. The work included a $55 million renovation of the health care center that began in 2011.

Kingsbury says Masonic Villages will continue to look for strategic ways to grow and update its offerings.

“We can’t sit still while the industry changes around us. We have to participate,” he says.

And while Kingsbury’s background as a lawyer gives him experience navigating construction projects or new partnerships, getting bigger isn’t the No. 1 priority.

“The overriding concern of the organization is to maintain the mission — it’s what distinguishes us from a lot of other senior living facilities,” he said. “We have a core charitable mission.”