Mary Edmonds, 1932-2017

Tributes paid to pioneering African American university administrator

November 23, 2017
Mary Edmonds
Source: L.A. Cicero/Stanford university

A pioneering African American advocate for diversity has died.

Mary Edmonds (née McKinney) was born in Cleveland, Ohio in February 1932. She did a bachelor’s degree in biology at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia (1953), studied physical therapy and then worked in a hospital and also with handicapped children in schools.

She returned to education to earn a master’s in health studies at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland (1962) and then continued to work in physical therapy. In 1972, Professor Edmonds began her career in higher education as founding director of the Physical Therapy Program at Cleveland State University. She went on to become chair of the department of health sciences (1976-81).

In 1981, Professor Edmonds moved to Bowling Green State University, also in Ohio, where she served as dean of the College of Health and Community Services (the institution’s first African American dean) before being promoted rapidly to vice-president of student affairs.

While rising up the administrative ladder, Professor Edmonds also gained a PhD in sociology from Case Western Reserve (1982) and took up a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan (1983). Her research focused largely on what would now be called “cultural competency”, with particular interest in access to healthcare for ageing black women.

These two strands came together in 1992 when Professor Edmonds joined Stanford University as both vice-provost for student affairs – the highest-ranking African American administrator in the university’s history – and clinical professor in the department of health research and policy. Deeply committed to opening educational doors to all, she proved a charismatic leader who completely restructured Stanford’s student services and chaired a committee on student athletics that put great stress on equity and fiscal integrity.

Shirley Everett, Stanford’s senior associate vice-provost, residential and dining enterprises, described Professor Edmonds as “a passionate advocate for diversity and inclusion [who] was dedicated to advancing social justice and ensuring that students and staff from diverse and under-represented groups had access to education and opportunities. Mary held the firm belief that education was power, and [she] leaves a legacy of inspiring many to further empower themselves, myself included…Throughout her illustrious career, she served as a mentor for female leaders, particularly for African American women.”

A founder of 100 Black Women of Silicon Valley, Professor Edmonds also took up roles as a visiting scholar in Brazil, China, South Africa, the UK and Yugoslavia. On leaving Stanford in 2000, she returned to Spelman College as special assistant to the president. She died on 11 October and is survived by her daughter, Jacquelyn Edmonds Cofer.

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