From young faculty member to acting president, Wallis Beasley had a profound influence on the direction of Washington State University.

Beasley died at age 92 of age-related causes at Bishop Place in Pullman on May 20, 2008.

Wallis Beasley worked at WSU for 33 years, serving as professor, department chair, and interim president. Photo WSU News Service.
Wallis Beasley worked at WSU for 33 years, serving as professor, department chair, and interim president. (Courtesy WSU News Service)

He was born in Red Bay, Alabama, on October 8, 1915, the youngest of seven children born to J. T. and Emma Shamblin Beasley. He attended Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, where he met Totsie Smith, whom he married. They had more than 40 years together.

After serving for a brief time as a minister of the Church of Christ, he enrolled at Peabody University in Nashville, Tennessee, earning a Ph.D. in sociology. He taught briefly at Pepperdine University before moving to The State College of Washington (now Washington State University) in Pullman. Beasley rose quickly through the ranks at WSU. While serving as chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, his department received national recognition for its recruitment of African-American graduate students. The University established a national reputation for producing outstanding sociologists of color, and WSU and the Department of Sociology were awarded the Dubois/Johnson/Frazier Award, the first department or institution to be so honored.

Over his WSU career, Beasley chaired many university committees and served as the faculty athletic representative to the Pacific Athletic Conference (now the Pac-10). President C. Clement French appointed him academic vice president, and upon French’s retirement, the WSU Board of Regents appointed him interim president of the University, a post he served with distinction for nearly a year, until the arrival of Glenn Terrell as president in July of 1967. Gen DeVleming, long-time assistant to presidents French, Beasley, Terrell, and Samuel Smith, noted,“Beasley’s appointment as president was well received. He kept WSU moving; he understood WSU very well and he was respected by his faculty colleagues.

“He always said that making no decision was the worst way for an administrator to manage—a decision at least moved the institution in one direction and did not permit chaos to fill the void, and a direction could be altered by a later decision if it were deemed necessary.”

As his retirement neared, the WSU Board of Regents approved naming the largest building on campus The Wallis Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum “in recognition of 33 years of distinguished leadership to the University Community as a teacher, administrator, and civic leader, 1949-1981.”

Following retirement, the Beasleys moved to Port Ludlow, hoping to enjoy some fishing. Totsie died in 1986, and Wallis later married Constance Robertson, a Port Ludlow neighbor who was also widowed. There, with Art and Helen Brunstad and other Cougar alumni, they hosted reunions for alumni and other friends of the University.

Beasley is survived by four nieces and six nephews, some still living in Red Bay, Alabama, where he is honored in the local museum for his WSU achievements.