Huntsville, Ala. ---- The entire Alabama A&M University family is mourning the recent death of the institution’s sixth president, Dr. Douglas Covington, 77, who died June 27, in Radford, Va. Last summer, AAMU family members came to terms with the death of long-term and fifth president Richard David Morrison.
A native of rural North Carolina, near Winston-Salem, N.C., he earned degrees from Central State University and The Ohio State University. Dr. Covington became the sixth president of Alabama A&M University on August 20, 1984. Covington quickly started a reorganization plan affecting not only university offices, but the board of trustees, as well.
“He was an extraordinary leader and a visionary who brought great opportunities to the University in terms of community, alumni and corporate support,” recalled Georgia S. Valrie, an AAMU alumna and retiree who served as its director of alumni affairs. “He even launched campus beautification efforts and the renovation of Hillcrest (President’s Home). He was a warm, compassionate person.”
AAMU records indicate that Covington’s administration spearheaded the raising of faculty and staff salaries; enhanced of academic success; the building counseling and student support services; increased student enrollment; expanded cooperative education; and other significant accomplishments during his brief tenure.
For instance, during the Covington administration, some 205 acres of the Chase Nursery property were purchased; another 905 acres was bought for agricultural research; an annex to the Carver Complex science building was constructed; a government-financed post office building was built on campus; and several cooperative agreements with other universities were formed, as well as the addition of advanced programs at the graduate level.
In 1984, Manicia Finch, AAMU’s assistant director of admissions, was a senior telecommunications/marketing major during the opening months of Covington’s presidency on The Hill. “I remember him as real personable and approachable,” she said. “He was very encouraging.”
Dr. Covington went on to lead other universities, including the predominantly white Radford University in Virginia, where he served from 1995 until his retirement in 2005. A performing arts center on that campus was named in honor of Covington and his wife, Beatrice. According to Radford officials, Covington is credited for launching the Virginia school’s first capital campaign, co-writing its first campus-wide strategic plan and contributing to “a warm and welcoming campus culture.”
Covington also formerly served as chancellor of Winston-Salem State University and president of Cheyney University in Pennsylvania before becoming the first black president of Radford, which has a current black enrollment of 7 percent, up from the 3 percent it had when Covington first took the helms of the presidency.
With Covington as leader, "Radford University saw significant enrollment increases, more academically prepared students, higher retention and graduation rates, and attention focused on providing both an academically challenging curriculum and a richer campus environment," according to a commendation approved by the Virginia General Assembly. Additionally, Radford established its Waldron College of Health and Human Services, noted the resolution.
Covington also spearheaded the first two capital campaigns at the 102-year-old. Gifts and pledges were projected at $66 million, the commendation said.
"He knew the first names of the housekeepers, of the carpenters, of the people who worked in dining service. Many, many students, he could recall their names.
He was phenomenal," said Cary Sutherland of Pulaski, Va., Covington's assistant during his time as president.
He opened the president's residence to students and faculty and used it for numerous events, Wilson said. Covington was visible on campus, attending events including athletics, and had good relationships with city officials and the off-campus community, Wilson said.
Funeral services will be held Saturday, June 30, at 12 noon at Grove United Methodist Church, 1020 Tyler Avenue, Radford, Va. Visitation, coordinated by Penns Funeral Home of Pulaski, Va., is scheduled for Friday, June 29, 6-8 p.m. at the Douglas and Beatrice Covington Center for the Visual and Performing Arts (pictured left) on the Radford University campus.
- Jerome Saintjones