Standing on His Shoulders
“An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man,” wrote philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson more than 150 years ago.
Today those words ring true as the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) remembers Lawrence C. Wanlass, a man who helped to lay the foundation for the University of the Virgin Islands, and whose legacy has shaped the institution for more than five decades.
“Like many other organization[s], the College of the Virgin Islands drew its vitality from the quality of its founding leader and President. Dr. Wanlass was the tower of strength on which this institution was built,” Malcolm Kirwan, former UVI vice president of Administration and Finance and chief financial officer, wrote in a letter to Wanlass’ daughter.
As the first president of the school from 1962 to 1980 (when it was known as the College of the Virgin Islands), Dr. Wanlass created the Board of Overseers, a diverse group of more than 100 individuals from the Territory and abroad. Their collective charge was to provide insight, leadership, outreach and influence – all in the quest to bring prestige and gravitas to the institution.
President Wanlass understood that the seeds he planted in the College’s infancy would bear fruit for years to come.
“He was inspired by its mission and committed to a vision of fashioning an institution to serve the people of the Virgin Islands well beyond his Presidency,” observed Kirwan.
During his tenure, the college achieved land-grant status and received a large endowment through federal legislation. The endowment to establish the Reichhold Center for the Arts was also established. Through these acts and many others, he helped to ensure that future generations of Virgin Islanders – as well as students from around the world – would benefit from the unique experiences only UVI could provide.
Under his leadership, the University started offering two-year programs in a variety of disciplines and, eventually, established four-year academic programs. In time, the school earned five-year accreditation from the Middle States Association.
Dr. Wanlass retired from the UVI presidency in 1980 and was bestowed with the status of President Emeritus.
“President Emeritus Wanlass’ passing is a tremendous loss for the institution because he played a pivotal role in establishing the foundation for this University, and he set the stage for its early development,” current UVI president David Hall stated.
“Though I never met him, he would regularly send notes to me congratulating me on the progress of UVI, thanking me for being involved. That really meant a lot to me because of his legacy and because of the role that he fulfilled for the institution,” he added.
Kirwan, a CVI alumnus who worked closely with the former president, believes that Wanlass’ compassion made him an exceptional leader.
“I have always been deeply grateful for the opportunity he extended to me to serve the College of the Virgin Islands during his Presidency, for teaching me the meaning of compassionate leadership, and for showing me, by his fine example, what it meant to be a leader who serves with sincerity, integrity and honor,” he wrote.
Wanlass earned a Ph.D. in political science at the University of California at Berkeley. During his career, he taught at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and was one of the co-founders of the American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy. In 1953, Wanlass had his “Gettell’s History of Political Thought” published.
The University of the Virgin Islands is deeply indebted to and stands proudly on the shoulders of a great man and leader – Lawrence C. Wanlass.