RICHMOND, Va. – Dr. Grace E. Harris died on Monday at the age of 84, she was the highest ranking African-American and woman in the history of Virginia Commonwealth University, according to Capital News Service.
In an email to the University’s community, President of VCU Micheal Rao said Harris was “a giant in legacy and in character, a woman whose contributions to VCU and to the countless lives we touch are truly immeasurable.” Roa said she was also “one of the wisest, kindest, and most generous people I have ever met.”
Born in 1933, Harris was the sibling of five who grew up in Halifax County. She would earn her bachelor’s degree from Hampton University and then her master’s degree from VCU – then called the Richmond Professional Institute – in 1960.
Harris was hired as an assistant professor in the School of Social Work. It would lead to a life time of work for VCU, becoming the University’s dean in 1982, provost in 1993 and acting president in 1995 and 1998.
In 2001 Harris worked alongside the former Governor of Virginia Mark Warner, who is now a U.S. Senator for the state, as vice chair of his transition team. Warner also appointed Harris to the Virginia Commission on High Education.
In 2007, VCU renamed its School of Business to the Grace E. Harris Hall in honor of her.
“Her connection to the needs of the community and its citizens had a dramatic impact on the identity of VCU and the way it engaged people,” said former Governor L. Douglas Wilder, a longtime friend of Harris’.
Harris retired in 2016, but continued to work with nonprofit organizations across Virginia after leaving VCU.
She is survived by her husband, James W. “Dick” Harris; her two adult children, Gayle and James; and her grandson, Jullian, who earned a master’s degree in sociology from VCU in 2016.