I post this picture every year on December 13th. This is one of those years where December 13th is a Monday, just like it was in 2004. Dr. Julius Scott was the interim president at Philander Smith and was there that morning to hand me the keys to the college. He passed in 2019 so this becomes one of my most cherished memories.
So many key people have passed in 2021, and it makes me think about some of the alums of the 2 colleges I have led who have died along the way. I just want to remember them today as I begin my 18th season as a president, not knowing if this is my last one as a president, if it will continue beyond July of 2022, or if I will explore a different path. Only time will tell.
But here are some people I was glad to know because of my role as a president.
PHILANDER SMITH COLLEGE
Harry Roberson (1927–2019). He came to my inauguration at Dillard and always sent us a box of fruit during the holidays. He was like a grandfather to me.
Dr. Robert Williams (1930–2020). The father of Black psychology who coined the term “ebonics.” An intellectual giant.
Dr. James Cone (1938–2018). The father of Black liberation theology. Another intellectual giant (Philander had something special there!)
Dr. Cecil Cone (1937–2016). Brother of James. Always sent me his annual gift each December. Preached one of the most memorable sermons I have heard, “The Cross, The Lynching Tree, and the Electric Chair.”
Dr. William Woods (1931–2014). The long serving biology professor at Philander Smith College. Sent a significant number of people to medical school.
Dr. Freddye Davy (1922–2012). Board member and dean of the honors college at Hampton University. She pulled me out of a meeting to let me know she had a terminal illness. This is from the commencement a month before she passed. In fact, her funeral was on the day we moved from Little Rock and I was not able to attend.
Dr. Millie Charles (1923–2020). She literally built the social work program at SUNO, and a new building is named in her honor.
Charline Jacob (1937–2020). Very active alum from during my entire tenure, always supportive.
Barbara Julian (1934–2020). She was the West Coast counterpart to Ms. Jacob in DC. Always supportive, always present. They passed in the same week.
Ellis Marsalis (1934–2020). The legendary jazz musician. His son Delfeayo continues his legacy as he leads the Uptown Music Theater where my daughter Lydia has been active.
Marguerite Washington (1994–2012). Marguerite was not yet an alum, and in fact had just started college, but I include her because this story left an indelible mark on my Dillard memory. She died on October 1, 2012 after I had been here just 3 months. The Chief came to my office that morning to break the news. He was describing the situation and I kept asking what her name was. The chances of me knowing the student was really low… but I had a sense I knew her. And I did- we went to church together. She died violently and was not even the target. Her grandmother, a Dillard alum, has been active with others impacted by this kind of violence.
Rhea Lucien (1921–2021). My girlfriend. So much I can say about her but she was always there, or called me if she wanted me to do something. Glad we had this time together. I felt bad announcing I was leaving this year in part because Ms. Lucien told me I was going to be here for 30 years. I told her that was too long! But she was our matriarch.
Over these 17 years I have been blessed to meet so many interesting people. Alumni are always interesting because they represent the living history of an institution. From the internationally known to the quiet, solid supporters, they enrich the presidency.