Glenn Terrell, former WSU president, dies at 93

SEATTLE — While he was president of Washington State University, Glenn Terrell had lunch nearly every day at the student union cafeteria, where he always sat with students to eat his meal.

It was that close, trusting relationship with students that later helped Terrell quell some of the most explosive protests on campus during the Vietnam War era, said his wife, Gail.

Terrell, who was president of the university from 1967 until his retirement in 1985, died Friday morning at home in Sequim. He was 93.

In his honor, WSU recently named one of its important pedestrian thoroughfares as the “Glenn Terrell Friendship Mall” because Terrell often walked that way to work and stopped to chat with faculty and students along the way. And in 2006, one of the school’s newest libraries, adjacent to Holland Library, was renamed the Terrell Library.

WSU President Elson Floyd said that Terrell was respected nationally for his leadership, and for his accomplishments at WSU, but “will perhaps best be known as a man who cared about people.”

“He had a rare ability to make anyone he was talking to feel like the most important person in the world,” Floyd said.

Born in Tallahassee, Fla., the son of a Florida Supreme Court justice, Terrell was a student at Davidson College in North Carolina when the United States entered World War II, his wife said. Terrell joined the military after graduation, and took part in both the D-Day invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge.

When he talked about the war — which wasn’t often — Terrell told funny stories about military life, his wife said. Terrell also had a beautiful singing voice, she said, and while his company was stuck on the German border for a month, he went every night to a small tavern with some of his fellow soldiers to sing and play music.

“They had an abundant supply of brandy and cognac, and every time the shells came, they dived under the tables,” she said.

Terrell was one of the American soldiers who marched down the Champs-Elysees with French General Charles de Gaulle when Paris was liberated, she said, and when he left the military, he had attained the rank of captain. “He was very proud of what he did for his country,” his wife said.

After the war, Terrell received his master’s in psychology from Florida State University, and later earned his Ph.D. at the University of Iowa. He taught developmental psychology for many years.

He was serving as the dean of faculties at the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle in the late 1960s when WSU began wooing him to be the university’s next president, she said, and eventually, he accepted.

It was a turbulent time, and war protests were common on campus. Gail Terrell said her husband was on a trip to Washington, D.C., when the news broke in May 1970 that four Kent State University students had been killed by the Ohio National Guard.

Terrell flew back to Pullman, where angry students had jammed the administration building. “Some of them had guns,” she said. “It was amazing how he calmed them down. So many administrators wanted him to call the police, and he wouldn’t do that.”

Later, more than a thousand students massed in front of the WSU president’s house during a demonstration. Dr. Terrell “went out with his little bull horn and said, ‘If I didn’t love all of you, I would be afraid,’ ” Mrs. Terrell said. “It just calmed them down.”

As president, Terrell emphasized the importance of support for research. During his time at the school, research grants and contracts grew from $11 million in 1965-67 to $68.5 million in 1983-85. He also helped establish the WSU Foundation to increase private support for the university.

His wife said she asked him once why he never had an unkind word for anyone. “He said, ‘It’s because I always believe everybody can be better than they are, and I want to help them reach their potential,’ ” she said. “He was an amazing man.”

In addition to his wife, Terrell is survived by two children, Francine and William Glenn Terrell III, both of Seattle; and two grandchildren. Services are pending.

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