Elson Floyd, the beloved president of Washington State University who fought successfully for WSU to have its own medical school even as he himself was ill with cancer, died Saturday morning.
Dr. Floyd, 59, president of WSU for eight years, died in Pullman of complications from colon cancer. He had gone on medical leave just a few weeks ago, and his death came as a shock to many.
Across the state, leaders praised President Floyd, calling him one of the most respected and admired educators in the country, and a giant in his field.
In the last five months of his life, he successfully pulled together support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle that allowed WSU to create its own medical school, which would begin teaching its first class in fall 2017. He made dozens of trips to Olympia, arguing passionately for the need to train more doctors to work in underserved rural areas.
“He was the engine behind that bill — but it was not an easy one to get passed,” said Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane. After the bill was signed Baumgartner and others joined President Floyd in singing the WSU fight song and talked about the challenges President Floyd was facing with cancer. “I’m sure glad that he got to see that bill get passed before he went.”
A tall, broad-shouldered man with a deep voice, President Floyd commanded attention. He often touched on the theme of needing to broaden access to higher education, and worked to make WSU accessible to more students, especially those who would be the first in their families to go to college.
He was known to pass out his personal cellphone number to students, urging them to call if they ever needed help, and he and his wife, Carmento, often sat in the student section during games, cheering the teams on. Students called him by his nickname, “E Flo.”