Irving McPhail, new president of St. Augustine’s University, dies of COVID-19

Several people associated with the HBCU gathered outside his residence to pay their respects to the educator

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Dr. Irving P. McPhail, who took over as president of St. Augustine’s University this summer, died earlier this month just days after testing positive for coronavirus. He was 71.

McPhail became the 12th president of St. Augustine’s on July 15, succeeding Dr. Everett Ward as head of the private historically black college in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Several students and faculty members of the school have gathered outside McPhail’s residence to honor the short-lived president, local newspaper The News & Observer reports.

Dr. Irving P. McPhail

In September, McPhail went into self-quarantine after being exposed to someone with coronavirus, the fast-spreading novel virus that causes the COVID-19 disease that been attributed to more than 1 million deaths around the globe in less than a year. This prompted him to give his Sept. 17 SAU fall convocation via a pre-recorded message, according to Richmond Free Press.

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McPhail first reported experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 on the weekend of Oct. 3 and was later taken to WakeMed Health and Hospitals, a health-care system in the capital area. An email from the university was sent out on Oct 12 saying that McPhail was “recovering” after “receiving expert care and treatment at a local hospital.”

The letter continued by reiterating that McPhail did not come into contact with COVID-19 while he was on the SAU campus and that he been taking every precaution whenever on campus.

“President McPhail has been a strong proponent of face coverings and social distancing. He has regularly communicated with the campus community about SAU’s COVID-19 protocols and expectations, through both formal and informal channels,” the message said.

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James Perry, the chair of St. Augustine’s board of trustees, says McPhail stayed home and took over-the-counter medicine in the early stages of his quarantine, unaware if he had contracted the virus at the time. The late president was hospitalized after having trouble breathing.

Perry said that McPhail initially showed signs of improving health during his hospital stay, but his condition worsened as time went on. He was 71 when he died.

SAU’s vice president and chief of staff Maria Lumpkin will serve as interim president.

Dr. McPhail spent much of his life in the education administration field. According to D.B. Walker & Co. Funeral Services, he served as president of St. Louis Community College and Memphis’ Lemoyne-Owen College, and was the founding chancellor of the Community College of Baltimore County. He was also a CEO of the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering for the National Academy of Engineering.

Dr. McPhail was raised in Harlem, NY. He earned his bachelor’s degree in  development sociology at Cornell University, a masters degree at Harvard Graduate School of Education, and received his doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania in reading/language arts.

He is survived by his wife Dr. Christine Johnson McPhail, and two children, daughter Dr. Kamilah McPhail McKissick and son Ralph Bessard.

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