Elson Floyd, the president of Washington State University, died over the weekend. He was 59 years old and had led the institution for eight years. He leaves behind a remarkable legacy.
He was a brilliant statesman, a visionary with the leadership to make things happen.
On first meeting him people would often comment on Dr. Elson Floyd’s commanding presence and eloquence. He had a natural charisma and warmth. And it was genuine and his students knew it and loved him for it.
He came from humble beginnings. The son of a brick mason, he was the first in his family to get a college education. Raised in North Carolina the oldest of four boys, he also worked to get his brothers through school. Education had set him on the path to greatness and he spent his career making sure to pass along that gift to others.
Dr. Floyd took the reins as president of Washington State University in 2007. He leaves behind a legacy few could match.
As a fundraiser he was unparalleled. Under his leadership, the university raised one billion dollars–an enormous accomplishment in the best of times, but he did it during a period of national economic downturn.
When devastating budget cuts hit in 2008 – he volunteered to take a $100-thousand dollar pay cut – one-sixth of his salary. That cut continued for several years.
During his tenure; he boosted enrollment and ushered-in the establishment of The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication and The Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health. He oversaw the building of a new football stadium and won state approval to develop a new School of Medicine at WSU in Spokane.
He had big dreams and accomplished big changes but it was perhaps the changes to the lives of individuals he prided most.
Every year at commencement he would stand and shake the hand of every single graduate – this May alone that was 3,025 handshakes. His face would beam, joyful students would spontaneously hug him. It was electric to witness.
It is said great leaders inspire others to greatness. Perhaps Dr. Floyd saw his legacy, his opus in those faces.
Copyright 2015 Northwest Public Radio