PULLMAN — Everyone in Washington state seemed to be part of the “Cougar Nation” on Wednesday as students, politicians, alumni, faculty and staff gathered at Washington State University to remember President Elson S. Floyd, who died in June.
Gov. Jay Inslee praised Floyd, 59, for his leadership in higher education across the state and the nation, and for making WSU a statewide university.
“If they ever have the Mount Rushmore of college presidents, he will be on it,” Inslee said of Floyd, who died of complications from colon cancer.
At the memorial in Beasley Coliseum, the WSU president since 2007 was praised repeatedly for his leadership in raising money for the university, for putting students and education first and convincing the Legislature to support his vision of a new WSU medical school.
Inslee said Floyd will always be remembered for his leadership and his passion, “not just as one of the greatest cougars, but one of the greatest Washington leaders.”
Ryan Durkan, chairwoman of the university Board of Regents, called Floyd a tireless advocate of higher education in the state and the nation. Others spoke of his drive and energy even after being diagnosed with cancer.
The university Board of Regents has said it intends to name the new medical school in Floyd’s honor.
Others spoke of his humanity.
Paula Groves Price, associate professor in the Department of Teaching and learning, shared a story about the time the university president carried her baby daughter around at an important university event, and even held her while he gave his speech.
“Dr. Floyd loved children, he loved our WSU students,” Price said. “We loved him back.”
Carmento Floyd, the president’s wife, thanked the “Cougar Nation” for making her family part of the WSU family and for being there for her when her husband died.
“You made a difference in his life. Our family truly cannot tell you how grateful we are,” she said, adding that the WSU president often said he had 28,000 children.
Floyd enjoyed walking around the Pullman campus greeting students, and would pass out his personal cellphone number to them. Many students called him by his nickname, “E Flo.”
Research grants tripled under his leadership and WSU completed 30 major construction projects, including a Wine Science Center at WSU Tri-Cities, which opened this year.
The memorial ended with the WSU marching band playing the school fight song and the school mascot jumping across the stage.