Rhea Lucien: The Matriarch of Dillard

Walter M. Kimbrough
3 min readDec 24, 2021


A woman who is the head of a family or tribe. An older woman who is powerful within a family or organization. A highly respected elderly woman.

Rhea Lucien was our matriarch. I knew this the day I met her, November 1, 2011. This was the day I was introduced as the 7th president of Dillard University. Ms. Lucien looked at me and said, “You’re going to be here for 3 years!” I laughed and told her I didn’t know about that, but just reading the room you could see how she was revered by those present. I knew she was special.

Over the past ten years I have had numerous conversations with Ms. Lucien. She would call occasionally with different requests or ideas. She thought we could raise money to renovate the alumni house. She wanted more alumni to come to the meetings and said maybe if I came, we could draw more to attend (I did come to a meeting once because she specifically requested). But she always wanted what was best for Dillard.

Because she did not have any biological children, Dillard was her child. She would find people to bring her back to campus for events, like the lectures, concerts, or commencement weekend events. When there was an opportunity, she was always recognized by someone on the program.

Because she was our matriarch.

Ms. Lucien was extremely humble. When we gave her a shout out at those programs, she always had this look of embarrassment as she did not seek the spotlight. She never wanted any public honors, but finally acquiesced so that we could name the PSB atrium after her and her husband. It was a fitting tribute for her 100th birthday in October.

But I don’t want people to think the naming was simply a sentimental gesture. It was earned. Very quietly, Ms. Lucien was one of the major donors to Dillard University.

A MAJOR donor. I’ll leave it at that.

Two months later, Ms. Lucien died. And while her biological family planned her funeral, her celebration of life occurred in October for her birthday and the naming ceremony. This is one of the times when the idea of an HBCU being a family was clearly obvious. The people and groups important to her, the Dillard nurses, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, and the Dillard University alumni were all able to give her those proverbial flowers while she was alive to see them.

I’m sure another woman will emerge from our alumni ranks to take her place as our new matriarch. I believe there is value in having a revered alumna who represents the best of the university. But Rhea Lucien’s place in the history of Dillard University is legendary.

Everyone knew Ms. Lucien was my girlfriend. She would always have me bend down so she could give me a kiss on the cheek (before she shared her latest idea with me!) We’ll miss her, but thankful for the time we had together.

The Prez



Walter M. Kimbrough

12th president of Philander Smith College. 7th president of Dillard University. Now in an Intermission.