PULLMAN, Wash. - The president of Washington State University, Elson Floyd, has died at 59.
A spokeswoman for the school, Kathy Barnard, says Floyd died Saturday morning at Pullman Regional Hospital of complications from colon cancer.
Floyd went on medical leave earlier this month, and Executive Vice President Dan Bernardo assumed the day-to-day duties of president.
Floyd had been president of the university since 2007 and had most recently pushed to create a medical school at WSU's Spokane campus.
His list of accomplishments is long and impressive but those who know Elson Floyd say his legacy is perhaps strongest in the hearts of the Cougar family. WSU Vice President for Advancement John Gardner considered him a friend "he helped the university rediscover what that public purpose means but in a 21st century way."
Gardner said Floyd worked hard to make higher education more achievable and affordable while still pushing for high standards. "Most universities celebrate their exclusiveness, or frankly who they reject, President Floyd gave WSU the voice back to celebrate who we accept."
Floyd was known for his outgoing and upbeat personality. He walked around campus frequently and was known for giving out his cell phone number and sitting with students during WSU games.
Nick Anderson said he met Floyd several times and describes him as "inspirational."
"You could feel his passion for higher education and there was an aura about him that spoke of that" he explained.
Floyd's photo hangs in the Washington State Connections store in downtown Seattle, members of the cougar nation who visited the store Saturday shared stories.
"The students have a nickname for him; we call him EFlo, very much beloved by all the students" Anderson said.
The loss was heartbreaking news for alumni, even those who didn't attend during his tenure expressed their sadness "he really engaged himself with the students in a way no other president had" James Erickson said.
Erickson said he leaves behind big shoes to fill "those accomplishments are going to be incredibly hard to top and I don't think anyone should try and top them."
"They should just try to live up to his ideals and everything set forth for the university itself," he said.
Floyd worked until just weeks ago when he took medical leave, those close to him knew he was sick but said he faced illness with the same strength that he brought to his work. Floyd leaves behind his wife, children and grandchildren, and also an entire Cougar family who now mourns this loss together.
WSU's tribute web pageincludes an area where condolences can be shared.
Washington State University's statement:
On behalf of the Washington State University Board of Regents and the entire Washington State University community, it is with profound sadness that I announce the passing of President Elson S. Floyd, Ph.D. June 20, 2015. He died in Pullman surrounded by family.
While leading WSU to unparalleled growth and success, President Floyd was privately engaged in a battle with cancer. He and his doctors were immensely optimistic throughout that battle. Though his prognosis and outlook remained positive, recently the illness took a more serious turn. Higher education has lost a giant, and the world has lost one of its kindest human beings.
Dr. Floyd's brilliance and determination on behalf of WSU can best be understood by looking at his work. He led the completion of a $1 billion capital campaign for WSU, successfully built bipartisan support to create a new WSU medical school, and guided the university to its largest enrollment in 125 years. And that was just in the past year. The university's accomplishments during his tenure are unprecedented, and his legacy will serve the people of Washington, the nation, and the world for generations to come.
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In the interest of maintaining momentum on the university's major initiatives, we have asked Dr. Daniel J. Bernardo, WSU provost and executive vice president, to serve as acting president. We have every confidence in his ability to lead our institution through this transition.
Honoring President Floyd's accomplishments will undoubtedly take place in many forms. He loved WSU and the entire Coug Nation, and they loved him. Details on how and where we will gather to pay tribute to our leader, colleague, and friend will be forthcoming.
Washington State University Board of Regents