Dr. Marie McDemmond, Norfolk State’s first woman president, dies at 76

Marie McDemmond served as president of Norfolk State University from 1997 until retiring in 2005

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Dr. Marie V. McDemmond, the first woman named president of Norfolk State University, died Wednesday at the age of 76, according to local news outlets.

McDemmond made history when she became “the first African American woman to lead a four-year public higher education institution in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” the historically Black institution said on Thursday in a statement.

She served as the third president of NSU from 1997 until her retirement in 2005 due to illness. 

Dr. Marie V. McDemmond (via Norfolk State University)

Norfolk State described McDemmond as a “groundbreaker,” a “history maker,” and a “visionary” who is credited with bringing “advanced technology to the University in the form of the institutional website and internet access.”

A research hub featuring a clean room and other laboratories on the school’s campus in Norfolk, Virginia dons her name — the Marie V. McDemmond Center for Applied Research.

“She visualized a research hub originating on 25 acres at the intersection of Brambleton and Park Avenues and secured funding for the construction of what was initially known as the RISE (Research Innovations to Support Empowerment) Center,” per NSU.

The university recognized McDemmond as a woman of many “firsts,” including being the first person to make a $1 million donation to the school.

“She was a true leader and pioneer whose imprint on Norfolk State will last in perpetuity,” read the university’s statement.

“I think my legacy was to give NSU a focus on science and technology, to understand that they had to produce quality graduates who would go out and make a contribution to Virginia,” McDemmond told The Virginian-Pilot in a 2010 interview.

In a 2007 interview, Dr. McDemmond noted the complexities of being a female leader in higher education, despite the fact that women made up the majority of student bodies at many historically Black colleges and universities.

Given that women at that time were 64% of learners at Norfolk State, it is critical to have women in leadership positions, McDemmond told Diverse: Issues In Higher Education.

“It’s been very difficult for African American women to succeed in leadership positions in our HBCUs. For me, that’s unfortunate,” she said in the publication. “Not to have women in the top leadership, I think, does not provide good role modeling for our female students.”

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