NORFOLK, Va. — Norfolk State University is still feeling the loss of one of its leaders.
The university’s third president, Dr. Marie McDemmond, passed away last month. On Wednesday, a celebration of life ceremony was held at the university.
She made history as the first woman to become NSU’s president and the first African American woman to lead a four-year higher education institution in Virginia.
Many gathered inside the university’s L. Douglas Wilder Performing Arts Center for the memorial service. Some called her a trailblazer.
“She was a giant in spirit and attitude,” said Virginia State 2nd District Delegate Candi Mundon King. “Members of the Virginia House of Delegates passed a resolution in Dr. McDemmond’s honor acknowledging some of the work she’s done, but also acknowledging her role as a first African American woman to lead a four-year university in Virginia."
King also saw Dr. McDemmond as a mentor. She said she worked as a legislative intern for her.
“She was such a great support system for me. She is truly going to be missed,” said King.
King said Dr. McDemmond's contributions go beyond the NSU campus.
“Many people don’t know she was one of the first people to advocate federally for more funding for Virginia’s HBCUs. She was such a bridge builder,” said King.
Dr. McDemmond’s former colleagues said she set the foundation for success.
“She used to tell us it’s about being a servant leader. Learn that you’re supposed to serve the people that you’re leading,” said Adebisi Oladipupo, the former NSU vice president of research and technology.
Dr. McDemmond held her position from 1997 to 2005 and during that time, she envisioned a research hub known as "RISE" or Research, Innovations to Support Empowerment.
Now, that research center has her name on it. It’s a reminder of her legacy for all NSU Spartans.
Dr. McDemmond also became the first person to donate $1 million to the university. She also started many new initiatives for the university, like starting a comprehensive fundraising program.