Thousands gather to celebrate life of Elson S. Floyd
PULLMAN, Wash. – It was a day of sadness and celebration as thousands gathered Wednesday to honor the life of the late Washington State University President Elson S. Floyd.
President Floyd died June 20 from complications of colon cancer. He was 59.
More than 5,000 attended a Celebration of Life that featured the WSU God’s Harmony gospel choir; remarks by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, U.S. Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and other dignitaries; an appearance by Butch T. Cougar; and the fight song led by the WSU Cougar Marching Band. Regent Mike Worthy served as emcee for the Pullman event and hundreds of others gathered at WSU campuses at Everett, Spokane, Tri-Cities and Vancouver to watch online.
“Elson Floyd loved Washington State University,” said President Floyd’s wife, Carmento Floyd. “He loved this state, he loved this university and he loved the students. And, you loved him. You embraced him and our family and we can never thank you enough for the love and support you have given us.”
The audience included members of the Floyd family, elected officials from local, state and national government, alumni, friends, faculty, staff and hundreds of students.
“The first time I met Elson I was still in Congress,” said Gov. Inslee, who asked Floyd to lead his transition team when Inslee was elected governor. “He stepped into my office and immediately his personality filled the room. I knew right away that he was someone so dynamic, so engaging and so forward-thinking that he could really get things done. And I knew I could learn a lot from him.”
Rep. McMorris Rodgers said President Floyd “set high goals and accomplished them – increased enrollment, more diversity, greater research grants and ambitious building programs in Pullman, the Tri Cities and Spokane. And his crowning achievement – a new medical school in Spokane.”
State Sen. Mark Schoesler recalled the relationships President Floyd developed with Schoesler’s family: “Everyone in our family has a nickname, and Elson was ‘The Big Coug,’ ” he said.
Paula Groves Price, associate dean for diversity in the College of Education, also recounted a story about the president’s personal side. Her family, including her infant daughter, was invited to dinner with the Floyds.
“That night, I remember that we talked quite a bit about North Carolina, since we were both Tar Heel alumni,” she said. “What was most memorable, however, was that Dr. Floyd held our 3-month-old Sachiko in his arms the entire time we were at their home.
“For me, his legacy is much larger than capital campaigns, new buildings or legislative victories,” Price continued. “His legacy is his humanity, his unyielding commitments to diversity and social justice and his dedication to doing what he felt was right to make us all better.”
Regent and WSU alumnus Scott Carson recalled a signature saying of President Floyd: “He would say, ‘Thank you for all that you do…we are better as a consequence.’ Today, I say to him, ‘Thank you, Elson, for all that you did. We all are better as a consequence.’ ”
Kevin Massimino, former student body vice president and student regent at WSU, closed the event.
“President Floyd made it a point not to simply operate from his office in French Ad,” he said. “Instead, he walked through the mall on sunny days, remembered our names and our faces…shook the hands of every single graduate that crossed this stage on commencement – not because he had to, but because he was genuinely proud of you.
“President Floyd greeted you with a surge of warmth and confidence that reinforced the idea that we here at Washington State University are more than an institution. We are a family.”
Kathy Barnard, University Communications, (509) 335-8055, email@example.com
Matt Haugen, University Communications, (509) 335-0487, firstname.lastname@example.org