Statements & Speeches

Mar 13 2013

Remembering Dr. Donald Zacharias

Congressional Record

REMEMBERING DR. DONALD ZACHARIAS -- (Senate - March 13, 2013)

Mr. COCHRAN. Mr. President, Mississippi State University and my State of Mississippi lost one of its most outstanding leaders with the passing of Dr. Donald Zacharias on March 3 at the age of 77. Dr. Zacharias served as the president of Mississippi State University from 1985-1997. His name became synonymous with the highest qualities of leadership, vision, and humanity. He was blessed with gifts that enabled him to make important contributions to higher education throughout the country.

I ask that a March 3, 2013 article from the Clarion-Ledger newspaper titled “Former MSU president Donald Zacharias’ legacy one of transformation,” be printed in the Record.

The article follows.

From the Clarion-Ledger, Mar. 3, 2013

Former MSU President Donald Zacharias’ Legacy One of Transformation

(By Therese Apel)

Former Mississippi State University President Donald Zacharias is being remembered among friends, family and MSU faithful as a man with a vision for the university--and a man who left a legacy of growth and progress at the school he loved.

Zacharias, who led the Starkville university from 1985-97, died Sunday of complications from multiple sclerosis after an extended illness. He was 77.

“He had an influence not just on MSU but on higher education at large in Mississippi,” said Sid Salter, director of University Relations. “He had some rather tumultuous battles with the Legislature over funding higher education. I think that’s really where he could shine in his ability and his willingness to fight for what he believed in.”

Roy Ruby was vice president for student affairs when Zacharias joined the MSU family and later was dean of the College of Education and interim president of the university. Until a year ago, when Zacharias was admitted to a nursing home, the two were neighbors.

“He was a man of solid integrity, and he was a man of his word,” said Ruby. “He was a man who, in all aspects of his life, tried to do right. He was a good family man, a good citizen of the state, and an exemplary college administrator.”

Current MSU President Mark Keenum said Zacharias was someone he looked up to.

“I counted him as a friend, a mentor and an inspiration. Don Zacharias was a man of great courage and dignity--and he was one of the most influential leaders in the history of Mississippi higher education,” Keenum said.
Salter said he and his late wife, Paula, who also had multiple sclerosis, were friends with Zacharias and his wife of 53 years, Tommie.

“They took an interest in Paula, and, ironically, he would later be diagnosed with MS,” Salter said. “He had a tremendous impact on me. He was a solid guy and a man of great integrity.”

Zacharias brought Mississippi State to a new level of prominence during his 12 1/2 years of service.

He raised MSU’s visibility and reputation nationally, and enrollment climbed to the largest in the state at almost 16,000. African-American enrollment more than doubled to 2,200, 15 percent of the student body and the highest percentage among SEC schools, according to a Sunday news release from the university.

Enrollment, private contributions, research and athletic achievement all grew significantly as part of Zacharias’ legacy.

“Dr. Donald Zacharias was a transformative figure at Mississippi State University,” Keenum said. “He really helped bring MSU into the modern era, and he did so by developing a broad vision for the leadership that Mississippi needed from a land grant university.”

Zacharias, upon his retirement from MSU, said: “I saw things in Mississippi State University that others might not have seen. I felt that I had made the right decision to be at this university because I liked both what it stood for and its overall character. I liked its mission, and I liked the students and alumni. I saw the potential.”

Gary Harris, a coach and educator at Heritage Academy in Columbus who graduated from MSU in the early 1990s, said he remembers Zacharias as someone who was able to connect with everyone, regardless of their backgrounds.

“Because of my involvement in several campus organizations, I was around Dr. Z many times,” he said. “He was a very kind, knowledgeable man who always seemed to know how to make everyone in the room seem important. He was a tremendous leader for our campus during some very difficult financial times.”

Salter said many of Zacharias’ dreams for the university continue to be fulfilled.

“He had a long reach, and his influence extended past his own tenure as president.”

Funeral arrangements are incomplete, but the Zacharias family will communicate details through the university. A public memorial service is tentatively planned for Thursday on the Starkville campus of MSU.

 

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