William B. DeLauder, the president of Delaware State University between 1987 and 2003, died on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. He was 81. Dr. Tony Allen, the current provost of DSU, gave this eulogy for the beloved leader, honoring his achievements building the reputation of the school and making it a more robust institution and center of learning.
I have always treasured meeting true gentlemen: men of a certain distinction regardless of expertise or discipline who understand that personal honor is never negotiable. Such men value communities reflecting great diversity in thought, ideas, and people, as well as genuine equity for women, people of color, the differently abled and many others.
Mostly, I value interacting with men who believe that there is a greater good that we should all seek for ourselves and each other.
The eighth president of Delaware State University (1987-2003), Dr. William B. DeLauder, was such a man.
On June 8, he was interred among his relatives and ancestors in Frederick, Maryland. Although I never served under Dr. DeLauder, I was proud to know him and remain profoundly aware that he was the architect of the physical landscape and intellectual community to which I have now devoted my professional life.
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to thank Dr. DeLauder, who responded simply, “You are welcome. Keep pushing.”
I treasure those words. Following Dr. Luna Mishoe as president, Dr. DeLauder proved to be the transformative leader who first conceived, and then initiated, the Delaware State University we know today — one of the most diverse, consequential, and beautiful public universities in the country.
In 1987, narrow streets still crisscrossed our Dover campus; veteran faculty members tell me that you sometimes took your life in your hands if you stepped onto the pavement unawares. Dr. DeLauder envisioned a walking campus, filled with trees and open expanses for foot traffic and informal gatherings. He made this happen over a period of about three years in the mid-1990s, and most people today don’t recall it being any other way.
They probably also don’t recall that in 1987, the William C. Jason Library lacked its massive glass exterior; that the Education & Humanities Building had not received its facelift; or that the Mishoe Science Center, the Bank of America building, the Smith Administration building, and the Courtyard Apartments existed only within Dr. DeLauder’s imagination. Indeed, the entire campus stood open to the noise and smell of the street, because he had not yet built the wall separating campus from North DuPont Highway.
He made them happen through persistence and sheer force of will, because he understood that the physical environment was directly related to the intellectual and academic excellence to be achieved on campus. That’s why he also did the unprecedented for a small, Historically Black College/University (HBCU): leading a $8 million capital improvement fundraising campaign, the first in our history.
Sen. (then-Gov.) Tom Carper tells the story best:
“I loved Bill DeLauder. He was both a gentleman and a gentle man. I’ll never forget the day he came to see me during my first year as governor and shared with me his vision of transforming Delaware State College into Delaware State University. When he finished his presentation, he paused and asked me what I thought. I told him that he had me from hello. We smiled, shook hands, and went to work. Some 25 years later,
the DSU Hornets continue to rise.”
My special assistant, Dr. Steve Newton, recalls Dr. DeLauder announcing his aspiration toward University status to a somewhat shocked faculty:
“He seemed surprised that not everybody immediately shared his vision. Many professors vocally supported the idea, yet others were anxious about our capacities and how the change would be perceived. Despite being taken aback that everyone didn’t jump on the train immediately, he had the courage of his convictions, and went to work with all deliberate speed to convert the skeptical.”
Twenty-five years later there is no doubt about the timeliness or correctness of his decision.
From a small handful of graduate programs and a general self-identification limited to being a “teaching institution,” Dr. DeLauder set Delaware State University on the path to becoming a doctoral-granting institution with a $22 million annual research portfolio, seventh highest among 102 HBCUs.
I hope he’d approve, with that dignified smile, of the university’s recent large-scale expansion into the Greater Wilmington Metropolitan area, and the establishment of the Early College High School, the only HBCU-chartered college-prep high school in the nation.
DSU’s multiple international partnerships also derive from Dr. DeLauder’s vision. He was a dedicated traveler. His daughter-in-law, Dr. Saundra DeLauder (the university’s current vice provost), recalls that “he was like a cruise director, laying out all the details of where we’d stop, where we’d stay, and what we would be doing. He wanted to take advantage of every possible opportunity.”
Early post-Apartheid elections in South Africa found President DeLauder at the polls, leading a delegation of United Nations election monitors.
At his side — as always — was “the First Lady of Delaware State,” Vermell DeLauder, whose gracious charm extended to remembering not just the names of every faculty and staff member, but also (usually) the names of their spouses and children.
Over its 127-year history, Delaware State University has benefited from the leadership of numerous exceptional presidents both in times of trial and growth: Dr. William C. Jason (1895-1923), Dr. Jerome Holland (1953-1960), Dr. Luna Mishoe (1960-1987), Dr. Harry L. Williams (2010-2017), and our current chief executive, Dr. Wilma Mishoe.
I feel confident in recognizing Dr. William B. DeLauder as a visionary leader in that strong company, a committed man of letters, and a gentleman of the old school. Where he is now, I am confident that he was fondly greeted with the words from Matthew 25:21: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.…”
Dr. Tony Allen is the provost at Delaware State University. A longtime Wilmington civic leader and former executive at MBNA America and Bank of America, Tony is DSU’s chief academic officer.