Growing up in the lofty isolation of mountainous Ashe County, Dean W. Colvard was undistracted by frills. He learned early the discipline of work, responsibility, and doing the right thing. Those indelible lessons shaped the rest of his life and led him to become a visionary leader in higher education, first at NC State, then at Mississippi State and finally at UNC Charlotte.
He first applied those lessons at Berea College in Kentucky, where he worked in the dairy to pay his tuition, room, and board. Fearing he wouldn't earn enough to meet his expenses, he saved every penny he could and wound up with money left to help educate his brothers and sisters.
From Berea College he moved to newly established Brevard College, where he developed a work-study program that enabled men and women like himself to earn an education.
He earned a master's degree at the University of Missouri and renewed an acquaintance with Martha Lampkin, the love of his life, who later became his wife and helpmate. He also learned that he preferred dealing directly with people and animals.
He returned to the North Carolina mountains to run a test farm near Asheville and got a taste of politics, both partisan and personal.
Researchers at N.C. State urged him to seek a Ph.D. and join their faculty. He earned a doctorate in animal husbandry at Purdue and moved to Raleigh to lead the dairy program--and soon the entire School of Agriculture at N.C. State.
His success and skill at managing political pressure brought him to the attention of leaders at Mississippi State, where vigorous leadership was needed in the face of a smoldering civil rights revolution. He transformed Mississippi State, peacefully desegregated its student body, and allowed its men's basketball team to compete for the first time against teams of mixed races.
He was called home to North Carolina to develop a new, urban university in education-starved Charlotte, where he laid a foundation large enough to sustain astonishing growth.
Dean W. Colvard was admired by his colleagues for his earnest ambition, steadfast adherence to principles, and when challenged, a stubborn resolve to do the honorable thing.
On June 28, 2007, Dean Wallace Colvard died at the age of 93. He is survived by his wife, Martha, who turned 100 years old on April 23, 2013, three children, four grandchildren, and four great grandchildren (all boys).