Glenn Terrell served as Washington State University’s seventh president, from 1967 to 1985. He passed away in August at his home in Sequim. He was 93.
Terrell earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Davidson College in North Carolina, his master’s degree in psychology from Florida State University, and his doctoral degree from the University of Iowa. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II and was one of the American soldiers who marched down the Champs-Elysee with Charles de Gaulle.
He began his academic career as an instructor in psychology at Florida State, later moving to the University of Colorado where he headed the Department of Psychology. In 1963, he became dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois, Chicago Circle campus. Two years later, he became dean of faculties there. In 1967, he became president of WSU.
His presidency saw increased growth in international programs, instructional innovations, research, and outstanding teachers. The WSU Foundation was started under his tenure, in 1979.
President Terrell is survived by his wife, Gail, of Sequim; two children, Francine and William Glenn Terrell III, both of Seattle; and two grandchildren.
Glenn Terrell almost did not become the seventh president of Washington State University. When first asked, he said he didn’t feel ready to leave his current position, but about a year later, the regents called again and he accepted immediately.
Just thinking about Dr. T., as I called him, makes me smile. There was a sense of peace in the soft accent of that Florida-born gentleman with the tall stature but approachable manner.
His first years at WSU were filled with historic issues: civil rights, the Vietnam War, Cambodia, and student unrest. There also were the Martin Stadium fire, lettuce boycotts, and financial worries. Later, Mount St. Helens and a growing student body.
Dr. T. listened to all our concerns.
“I told everyone to treat the students kindly,” he reminisced by phone just a few months ago with retired University Relations director Bob Smawley ’52. “I knew what the students were feeling; I believed in many of the same things they did.”
Students recall meeting the president everywhere.
“I was on a Cascade flight from Pullman to Seattle when I was a freshman,” Dave Pridemore ’86 says. “The tall guy in front of me turned around and said, ‘Hi, I’m Dr. Terrell.’
“He looked like a professor and we talked a little. A couple weeks later friends and I were walking on the mall when that same guy came by and said ‘Hi Dave.’
“‘You know that was the president of WSU,’ a fraternity buddy with me said,” Dave remembers. “No, I didn’t…”
The student leader had many meetings with the president as the years passed.
“My diploma has the signature of two presidents,” says Dave. “After commencement, I went to Dr. Terrell’s home and asked him to sign the diploma.”
Dr. T. would disappear from an event and many times from the president’s box at a Cougar football game. You would look for the nearest group of students to find him. He finished many games on the sidelines of Martin Stadium.
“I wanted our athletes to know they could compete with the best,” the president said. Many times the athletes felt they were not at the level with other Pac-10 teams. “I felt it was my job to help them think otherwise,” the president said in his oral history.
Terrell’s success with students led to success with alumni, too.
“He was wonderful with our alumni and volunteers, too,” retired alumni association director Keith Lincoln ’61 says. “When you were talking with the president, you knew it was a one-on-one conversation. You had his attention. He listened.”
“Not every time would we get what we asked for,” Keith adds. “But he had a nice way of saying no.”
When Dr. Terrell came to WSU, it was to be president of WSU… Pullman.
“My priority was WSU in Pullman,” he stressed. “We worked hard to build the campus and lose nothing.”
President Terrell believed in cooperative efforts. One time a state council recommended dropping WSU’s pharmacy school. After all, the state had another at the University of Washington.
How exciting it was to watch WSU pharmacy alumni blow away that idea. Who were operating pharmacies across the state? Cougar pharmacy alumni! WSU administrators, college leaders, alumni, and friends stopped that idea cold.
I cannot exaggerate Dr. Terrell’s experiences with students.
“He was the greatest,” says his long-time assistant Gen DeVleming. “He would always take care of students first.”
The president left many meetings, stating “Gentlemen, I must leave the room” or “Please excuse me. I have a student in trouble,” Gen reminds me.
“Dr. Terrell asked us to get him when a student was really upset,” Gen says. And many times Dr. T. would walk the student to financial aid director Lola Finch.
“For many (students), the walk to our office with the president made it all fine,” Lola says. “He could make them feel better about their situations even before they got to our office.”
We admired our president greatly.
Gen would not schedule meetings early in the morning or shortly after lunch.
“I remember Gen waiting for Dr. Terrell to arrive at the office either in the morning or after lunch,” says Sonia Hussa, who began her WSU service in the President’s Office. “We might have even called the president’s house to be told that he had left quite some time ago.
“He walked in all sorts of weather,” says Sonia. “He used to tell us that he loved walking to work. It gave him a chance to meet casually with the students.”
Invariably, he would run into a few students on his route and spend an extra 5–10 minutes chatting with whomever he ran across, Sonia says. “He would come strolling in the office like he didn’t have a care in the world (even though a very busy day was ahead of him). He’d give us a big smile and say ‘Hi’ and then stroll into his office,” she says.
Gen would go in and try to rework the schedule given that Dr. T. was a half hour late getting into the office. “She was used to that happening as visiting with the students was almost always a higher priority than what was on his calendar,” says Sonia.
Dr. T. taught by example.
“I learned how to deal with people in general,” says Gen, who managed his schedule. “He tried to please everyone.”
The president made friends wherever he was. He had few enemies. “I think he loved every person he ever met,” she says.
“It was a great life for those of us that associated with him,” Gen says. “A tremendous, tremendous man.”
Wendy Peterson ’82, WSU director of admissions, was a student during the Terrell years.
“President Terrell would always stop and talk,” she says. “He cared about your response. He listened.”
The president could make everyone feel like he or she was the only one who deserved his attention.
“He didn’t seem to get rattled,” Wendy says. “That soft, southern tone in his voice lent a sense of calm to every conversation.”
Dr. T. was the right president at the right time.
“It was a thrilling time,” says Lola. “His effectiveness was highlighted during those years.”
She reminded me that Dr. T. was a leader first, “but he was the students’ president.”
“He was very open with administrators,” she says. “We were encouraged to walk right into his office anytime with an issue worthy of his immediate attention.”
Alumni contacted President Terrell often for advice over the last 20 years, too.
President Terrell was comfortable with his actions and abilities, says Dan Peterson ’82. “He was not afraid to bring in top flight to move the institution forward.
“I might not have seen it so clearly as a student, but now I know: Dr. Terrell empowered people long before the term was so popular,” Peterson says. “Many leaders are not able to assemble talented individuals and then step out of the way.”
“Hiring Dr. John Slaughter and Albert Yates, both men of color, was the most important to him and to the university,” says Felicia Gaskins ’73, who retired after 40 years in WSU administrative positions. The two served as outstanding leaders and role models for the WSU community, especially for students of color, she says.
The president said he didn’t do anything by himself. He brought people together into leadership roles. Gaskins brought her music performance degree to the directorship of international education. Connie Kravas came from the grant and research development office to boost the fledging foundation.
“Dr. Terrell had an amazing capacity to make you feel valued, and not just by remembering your name but things that were most important to you,” Connie says. “He was curious about you, wanted to know what you were thinking, what was gnawing at you, what made you laugh. There wasn’t a pretentious bone in his body.”
“WSU was moving from being a college to a university attitude when Dr. Terrell arrived,” says retired plant pathologist Jack Rogers.
The faculty was ready for shared governance and more money, and the new president was supportive. A university senate and later a faculty senate organized.
The president paid a good deal of attention to a private group, the Association of Research Professors, Jack says. The ARP and Dr. Terrell spent time correcting an injustice of budget allocations to research funding, among other issues.
“He had a remarkable effect on this university,” says Jack. “He loved WSU.”
In his oral history interview, Dr. T. said a disappointment that he remembered often was he didn’t get the university to AAU status. “But I hope we made strides.
“And I know the university goals include this most important recognition,” he said.
Quite a man, a good man, his son Glenn III’s friend, Gary Boone, remembers.
“I remember hearing Pres. Terrell in the living room talking to a group of students about tuition hikes,” Gary says. “He listened to those guys, whose comments were loud and boisterous at times, but the president listened.”
Then suddenly, in a soft, but firm voice, Dr. Terrell said, “But until you get your act together…get your story straight, I cannot help you.”
Boone and the group of Pullman teens thought they always knew when the president was home or away.
“One day I picked up a horse from the vet school and drove to the Terrells’ for a quick visit. I looked and smelled like a guy who had just loaded a horse into the back of a truck. But the president was supposed to be out of town so I banged on the front door…
“And President Terrell answered the door,” Boone says. “And he was hosting a formal dinner party.”
“That’s okay, Gar,” the president said. “Go on up. Glenn is upstairs.”
“He treated us great,” Boone said. “He was a regular parent to us.”
The boys knew the back way upstairs, but they also didn’t miss chances to meet university guests, including Washington senators Scoop Jackson and Warren Magnuson.
“Good times,” Gary says.
Staff members remember the good man, too.
“I really missed him when he left,” says long-time university photographer Norm Nelson. “I would go by his office and if he heard me, he would call me in.”
Fishing with author Pat McManus ’56, ’59 and the out-of-doors were favorite topics for the president and the photographer. However, busy schedules kept the president, the popular author, and the photographer from visiting a favorite fishing hole. “I always regretted that,” Norm says.
“He could put you at ease,” says Norm. “Maybe the easiest man I ever worked with.”
During Dr. T.’s presidency, more than 3 million square feet of new construction was added to the Pullman campus: 21 academic buildings, nine residence halls, Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum, Martin Stadium, and a remodeled Mooberry track. At that time, one-third of all WSU graduates received their degrees during the Terrell years.
Soon after he retired, regents named the central mall area the Glenn Terrell Friendship Mall. This was a perfect tribute for a man who spent great amounts of time there during his presidency with his favorite people: students. A year earlier, the WSU Foundation began a campaign to fund the Glenn Terrell Presidential Scholarships, a centerpiece of the university’s scholarship program. Since then 834 student scholars have received the prestigious award.
When the new addition to the library became the centerpiece of the mall, its name became the Terrell Library.
I think he might have been most honored when the Associated Students of WSU made him an “honorary student” when he retired as president. Years later he would emphasize how grateful he was. (He was named an honorary alumnus of WSU in 1977.)
In his 1967 inaugural address, Dr. T. talked about an element of WSU, its character.
There is an informal, uncomplicated, yet very sophisticated straight-forwardness about the people associated with Washington State University—its regents, faculty, student, administrators, and alumni. It is this character which has contributed so substantially in the past to its success, the president said.
“And I feel comfortable in depending heavily on it as we grapple with important, complex problems associated with change,” he said.
“He embodied the values that are Washington State University—friendly, approachable, genuine, hard-working (I don’t remember him ever taking time off), down-to-earth, persistent, gracious, kind,” Connie adds. “Being a Cougar was never a job to him; he was all-in from the first moment he stepped onto the Palouse to his last hours on the Olympic Peninsula.”
Faculty, staff, students, and alumni continue to build on that unique quality, that character and spirit that can only be known as being Cougars.