Delaware State University icon Dr. Ulysses Washington dies at 98

Dr. Ulysses S. Washington Jr.

DOVER — If there were a Mount Rushmore of leaders carved out on the grounds at Delaware State University, Dr. Ulysses S. Washington Jr.’s face would surely be on it.

Rev. John Moore Sr., like so many others at Delaware State University and throughout the community, could feel a void after the loss of an icon on Thursday after news spread that Dr. Washington had died at the age of 98.

“As a member of our shared fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. for more than three quarters of a century, Dr. Ulysses Washington lived up to our motto, which was, ‘First of all, servants of all, we shall transcend all,’” Rev. Moore said. “He was also a founder of the local chapter Zeta Rho Lambda which has sponsored the Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast for the last 35 years in Dover.

“Doc, as we affectionately called him, was a strong advocate for higher education, service to others and manly deeds. I will always remember his sense of humor and also his humility.”

Dr. Washington seemingly did it all throughout the span of six decades during his tenure at Delaware State, from a wide variety of roles that included professor, department head and even bus driver and football coach.

However, it was his faith and family that always came first.

“In my opinion his greatest personal accomplishment is being a supportive and loving father and grandfather,” said Diane Caroll, on a tribute video to her father, Dr. Washington, that was produced by Delaware State University. “Actually, two words come to mind – humble and genuine. Despite all the awards and accolades and accomplishments that my dad has had, he’s very down to earth.

“He’s a great man of faith and he doesn’t let all of this get ahead of him. He’s (always been) very accessible and very approachable.”

Ukee Washington, Dr. Washington’s son who is a co-anchor on CBS 3’s Eyewitness News out of Philadelphia, said his father just loved people.

“I would (describe my dad) in two words – incredibly caring,” Ukee Washington said. “The man, I’ll tell you when it comes to people, no matter who you are, where you are from, what you do, what you look like, what you’re all about, he cares about people.
“The man loved education, he loved to educate people and he wanted to afford the opportunities that others have for everybody.”

Dr. Washington’s career at Delaware State seemed to parallel the growth of the college and university from troubled times to more prosperous days.

He began his career at Delaware State in 1949 as a 29-year-old faculty member fresh out of a master’s program at Rutgers. He taught courses in poultry and agricultural mechanics to a half dozen students each semester.

In 1950, Dr. Washington became an assistant coach for the Hornets’ football team and served in that capacity through 1964. He spent 1965 and 1966 as the head coach and compiled a record of 7-10.

It was in the late 1960s when Dr. Washington set his sights on fundraising, and when he was named department head in the early 1970s he made soliciting money his top priority.

He had the vision to use Delaware State’s status as a historically black 1890 Land Grant institution to apply for numerous grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and by the late 1970s, building on campus was booming and enrollment figures were well on the rise.

It was a far cry from 1949, a time when the college wondered if it would be able to remain open from year to year.

Dr. Washington was promoted to chair of the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources in 1971, a position which he held until his retirement at the end of the 1990-91 academic year.

Though he retired from the university in 1991, he remained active in the school community. In December 2008, he was honored for his work in agricultural education and was inducted into the George Washington Carver Public Service Hall of Fame at Tuskegee University.

Retired university Provost Dr. Kenneth Bell, who succeeded Dr. Washington as chair of the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Studies upon his retirement, said the professor taught him many valuable lessons.

“I had a chance to follow him,” Dr. Bell said. “Many days we would go to lunch together and it would give me the opportunity to pick his brain and get his guidance on some things.

“One time, Dr. Washington told me my role was to get the right person for the job, give the person what they need and move out of their way. That stuck with me and that’s something that I adopted and learned from him. It worked well.”

For years, Dr. Washington lived in the same small, white campus house that he moved into in 1969, which is tucked under a tall tree across a parking lot from the College of Agriculture and Related Sciences administration building that bears his name.

Now, a large piece of Delaware State’s history is gone, but will not be forgotten.

“He was a tremendous trailblazer for Delaware State College and later Delaware State University,” Rev. Moore said. “Dr. Washington was a also great mentor and was willing to share wisdom and understanding on many challenges that faced society.

“He was a true inspiration, a God-fearing man and a role model who was a person of excellence and will always be remembered for his outstanding deeds and untiring effort in the enlightenment and betterment of humankind. We will miss you so ‘Doc’ Washington.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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