Friday, August 21, 2009
Patricia Sullivan was among the most memorable university presidents I've met in more than 40 years of covering North Carolina.PHOTO She had a rare combination of institutional vision, an uncanny common sense and, perhaps rarer yet, a warm personality that made her instant friends with students, alumni and ordinary folks all over this old state. Even more remarkably, she was the first woman to be chancellor at what is now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, but which for most of its existence was known as a college for women. When I was growing up in Greensboro it was known at Woman's College -- W.C. for short -- and it long had attracted the best female students in the region. It underwent quite a transition from the 1960s through the 1980s when barriers fell and women could attend any college they wished. But when Sullivan became UNCG's first female leader in 1995, folks wondered why they had waited so long to put a woman in charge. She was truly outstanding.
Joe Killian, a writer at my old newspaper the Greensboro News & Record, has a good assessment of her work over 14 years at the Greensboro campus. She had retired in 2008. Her death Thursday at age 69 from pancreatic cancer came as a shock because she had been so vigorous as a campus leader -- a notoriously hard worker who took an excellent university and made it outstanding, overseeing a 36 percent growth in enrollment while she was chancellor and transforming a very nice campus into a lovely academic enclave. But I think it was her personal attributes that won her so many admirers and built so much support for UNCG. She genuinely liked people, remembered their names and when she turned that toothy smile on you, the character lines in her face radiating exceptional warmth, the day always seemed to brighten.
She is a reminder of this truth about the University of North Carolina system: it has done much for the people of our state, and it has brought us new leadership and new energy that have made us better.
Posted by Jack Betts at 10:52 AM