Memorial ceremony honors McLeod

| News Editor

When Chancellor Emeritus William H. Danforth asked community members at a memorial for the late Dean James Earl McLeod to stand if he had helped them become better people, every seat covering the Washington University Field House floor was emptied.

Described as a “close friend” by nearly every individual who spoke, Dean McLeod, his life and his legacy were honored in a memorial service in the Athletic Complex on Sunday afternoon.

A call to action, urging all to maintain McLeod’s principles, legacy and attitude of selfless service in order to honor his life, carried through the memorial.

“Jim has been our hero, our role model, our touchstone in time of trouble, our symbol of courage, our friend and our Dean…And now his legacy is in our hands,” Danforth said.

Jeff McLeod spoke lovingly of his older brother, referring to him by his childhood nickname “Sonny.” He mentioned their upbringing in Alabama and the morals, values and faith their parents imparted to them. Jeff McLeod noted how well his brother embodied one of their father’s favorite words of wisdom: “Bite off more than you can chew, and chew it anyway.”

Robert L. Virgil, dean emeritus of the Olin Business School, lauded McLeod’s contributions to the University’s undergraduate culture, and to his own life.

“When I come to Washington University, I see him everywhere,” Virgil said. “He was—no, is—the soul of this culture.”

Following Virgil’s remarks, alumna and John B. Ervin Scholar, Michelle A. Purdy, shared the impact Dean McLeod had on her since their meeting in 1997.

“He was our father away from home, our mentor, our confidant and our friend. He was a role model, in particular for me, as an African American woman, for what was possible and what one can achieve while maintaining humility and calmness,” she said.

Provost Edward S. Macias joked about his weekly two-and-a-half-hour breakfasts at a local dive with McLeod, who he described as one of his closest friends. Referencing “The Wizard of Oz,” he noted that McLeod had the ability to draw from individuals the courage, bravery and heart that they had all along.

Ronald Thompson, who serves on the Board of Trustees, described McLeod as a “giant in mortal’s skin” and praised his commitment to creating the most fulfilling educational experience possible for all students.

“He recognized diversity as a requirement for a world-class education,” Thompson said.

Thompson concluded by thanking Danforth and Chancellor Wrighton for recognizing McLeod’s potential early on.

Harvey Fields, assistant director of academic programs in the Center for Advanced Learning, spoke briefly of his friendship and shared faith with Dean McLeod before reading a few unattributed verses of scripture.

Juniors Marcus Brown and Petra Greenidge then sang a duet of “The Prayer” that received a standing ovation from the audience.

Another member of the Board of Trustees, Andrew M. Bursky, also discussed his friendship with the Dean, specifically noting his admiration for how generously McLeod would give his time.

“Jim, unlike me, was never in a hurry,” he said.

Student Union President John Harrison York echoed this sentiment in his own remarks, noting that McLeod “always made time for the individual” and “understood the impact that brief conversations could have.”

Dean Sharon Stahl of the College of Arts and Sciences shared some of Dean McLeod’s frequently-used phrases that will continue to influence her life, including, “It’s a teachable moment,” “Be kind to one another,” and “Words matter.” She closed her remarks by reciting a recently published Shel Silverstein poem entitled “When I am gone, what will you do?”

Professors Gerald Early and Wayne Fields came together to the podium, but spoke separately.

“He believed all greatness was built on goodness,” Early said. “He believed, so you believed too.”

Wayne Fields spoke of two models of leadership in the Bible, the prophet and the pastor or shepherd. He argued that McLeod was a demonstration of the latter, the gentler of the two.

“He was a rarity in an academic institution, a visionary who got things done,” Fields said.

Sara McLeod, the Dean’s daughter, decided to share a few of the “quirky and intimate” aspects of her father, speaking of his messy office and fashion choices. She thanked the University for its condolences and support, and urged its members to keep the memory of her father alive in their hearts.

Before Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton made his closing remarks, a choir made up of all the campus a cappella groups performed a concert piece called “Sing Me to Heaven.”

The service was followed by a reception held in the Danforth University Center.

Students and alumni said they found the service a fitting tribute.

“It’s a great reminder to staff and students now to try to continue his legacy by striving to do that,” senior Anna Constantino said. “It’s incredible to me to have someone who has such a lasting legacy at our school.”

Past and present Ervin scholars were at the ceremony to offer their respects as well.

“It was just nice to know that there was an administrator that took such a personal interest in students. He really cared about what’s going on in all parts of your life,” said Rachel Phillips, an Ervin scholar who graduated in 2007.

“For me, he really created a community that was one of the reasons I came to Wash. U.,” senior and Ervin Scholar Jennifer Jeffers said. “I can’t really think of a better example of how to live a fulfilling life than Dean McLeod. He really knew how to make you feel important when he was talking to you, and really put the focus on you.”

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