Former UM President remembered at ceremony
Floyd was the only system president to tour the campus in a wheelchair.
Jun. 25, 2015
_Photos courtesy of Nancy Tharpe_ Close friends, family and former colleagues assembled Wednesday morning to celebrate the life of American educator Elson Floyd, who died June 20. Floyd was serving as the 10th president of the four-campus Washington State University at the time of his death. Prior, he was the 21st president of the UM System from 2003 to 2007, and before that he was president of Western Michigan University. The memorial service was held at 11 a.m. in the Reynolds Alumni Center. Commissioner of Higher Education David R. Russell served as the master of ceremonies. Five speakers, who were also well-known throughout the UM System, shared anecdotes about Floyd’s life. “Today, the sun is shining brightly, and we yearn to lift up our spirits,” Russell said to a solemn crowd. “Yes, I’m sure we’d all like to do that. But it’s very difficult. We’re all deeply saddened by his passing. But we also want to honor Elson’s memory with our stories and our anecdotes, and to affirm our continuing commitment to the causes of education and opportunity, to which he devoted his life’s energy and talent.” Then, he requested a moment of silence in recognition and appreciation of Floyd’s services to the entire UM System and the state of Missouri. Save for a few soft sniffles from the crowd, the room was hushed. “I had the privilege of serving as chief of staff during Dr. Floyd’s tenure as the 21st president of the University of Missouri system,” he said afterwards. “And I will relate to you my very first experience with Elson Floyd: ever since November of 2002, when the Board of Curators announced that Dr. Floyd was their selection to lead the university through what were then some very challenging times, we had been sharing those amazing stories coming out of Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he served as president of Western Michigan University.” One of the most popular stories told about Floyd was one where he chanced upon a student struggling to walk across WMU’s snowy campus, and he stopped to give him his own boots. During his testament at the open mic, Jerry Hitzhusen, the associate professor with the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, recalled Floyd’s stubbornness when he tried to teach the president how to hit a golf ball. “He was an athlete, but he was not a golfer,” Hitzhusen said. “We had a great time.” Then, he challenged current UM System President Tim Wolfe to do something Floyd was the first and last UM System president – so far – to do: “Elson Floyd was the only president of a university in the United States to take a tour of his campus in a wheelchair,” he said. “I think you all remember that driveway that goes up to Jesse Hall? After we were done, and nobody was around, he came up to me and said ‘Damn, Jerry, you almost killed me!’” Floyd urged the deans of all the colleges to follow suit. “I admire him a great deal,” said Eddie Adelstein, who serves as chief of pathology at the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital. “I was extremely sorry when he left and even more sorry that he died at an early age.” Adelstein, who has been at MU since 1954, said Floyd was the “best we’ve ever had.” “I’m a medical examiner,” he said. “I don’t grieve other people’s deaths; I’m used to that. I grieve his death. He was really exceptional.” Floyd arrived at MU in 2003, when the university was struggling through tough budgetary constraints. “When Elson Floyd came here, I was sort of an institutional dissonant and wrote a big article on the medical center going out of business,” Adelstein said. “And I met with him on the second day he was here and gave him the article and said, ‘I can tell you how to save the university.’ Most people would’ve said ‘Get out of my office.’ He could’ve. Instead, he was quite open, he listened to what I had to say and at one point, he said to me, ‘You know, you’ve given me good advice, it’s gotten me in a lot of trouble. But it’s good advice.’” By the time Floyd left his post for WSU, he had helped increase total enrollment and minority enrollment on all four college campuses. He had endowed 266 new need-based scholarships and created new tuition guidelines to keep up with inflation, according to [prior Maneater reporting](http://www.themaneater.com/stories/2006/12/13/floyd-resigns-take-wash-state-offer/) in 2006. “He has worked very hard all across Missouri to build a strong coalition for public higher education that will benefit our state's citizens and particularly our future students," former Chancellor Brady Deaton said in a statement in 2006. "Thanks in a large part to his efforts, we have sent a united message to our state government leaders regarding the great value of higher education." Deaton, whom Floyd appointed as chancellor in 2004, was present at Floyd’s life celebration too. “He was a man who really believed in the spirit and vision of higher education,” he said Wednesday. “He believed in the ability of the disadvantage of not having the opportunity to study at a university. And we were joined in that sense.” Wolfe said he only had a “short interaction” with Elson, in which he was fully embraced by his predecessor. “That short interaction with Elson symbolizes an understanding of the responsibility that comes with being a president of the University of Missouri system,” Wolfe said. “It’s a leadership role that I take personally and it’s really a reflection of who Dr. Floyd was, which was a passionate, great leader.”