29 October 2008

Mourning Zenobia Hikes

I was shocked to open my inbox and find that Zenobia Hikes had died during the night. She was only 53.

She died of complications following multiple heart surgeries.

As vice-president for student affairs at Virginia Tech, she helped shepherd the university through the days following the campus massacre on 16 April 2007.

She was a member of the group of Tech executives known as the policy group that gathered on the morning of April 16 2007 to deal with the shooting deaths of two students in a dormitory. As they were meeting, gunman Seung-Hui Cho entered a nearby hall and killed another 30 victims.

Of course, I never met her but, like millions of others, I watched her on television at the convocation held the following day. Her warmth, courage, and compassion helped rally the spirits of grieving students. And seemed to give some meaning to the madness that had happened.

Ed Spencer, interim vice-president, says, "I remember walking over to the convocation on April 17 and realizing how remarkably calm and reassuring she was, knowing what she was about to say as the moderator of ceremonies for the convocation, and we all know what an incredible job she really did for that."

And John Gray Williams, a student, remembers this: I'll never forget how inspired she made me feel when, only days after I'd met her back during my first semester here at Tech, I passed her on the Drillfield and she called out to me by name, "Oh, hello, John Gray." Really!? Did a vice president of this university of 30,000 really just remember my name? But that's how she was. If you took the time to seek her out and talk to her about any sort of student issues, she took the time to remember your name -- and the issue. She took the concerns I (and others) brought to her to heart.

Another student, Mohawk-John Woods, writes in his Live Journal, "This won't matter much to most of you non-Hokies [Virginia Tech folk], but it matters to us. Zenobia Hikes was one of the few administrators I still felt I could trust after the shooting -- and I suspect that to be true for others, too. She always worked so hard for us, and always listened."

I meant to write a blog post about her one day -- under the rubric Zenobia's Hall of Fame (21st C. AD) [sadly, I noted this morning that the link has stopped working].

I never imagined it would be a R.I.P.

But I can tell you, John Woods, her death does matter to most of us. As you said, Zenobia Hikes, you are sorely missed.

More information on this vibrant woman at In Memoriam: Dr. Zenobia Lawrence Hikes


  1. thank you for honoring dr. hikes. although not a hokie, i met dr. hikes while at the university of delaware from 1997-2001. she meant as much to us as she did to all the other students she came in contact with. we, at the university of delaware, stand with va tech in mourning this great loss.

  2. My Spelman Sister...I knew her and became very close with her during my studies at Spelman. I am deeply sadden by the news of her death. A beautiful soul she was...a true light in the various academic communities.
    She will always be remebered for the "neo" she provided to the Spelmanites.

  3. She had a spirit that lived up to her name - and anyone who ever had the luck to meet her (and likely also anyone who saw her speak that day on television) will remember a strong, essential warmth and a sharp vital intelligence.

    It would be difficult to gauge how many people in this community were touched and inspired by Zenobia Hikes - women, most particularly. Here was a woman that any young woman away from home in their formative years of university could look at and see so many good - no, good is too soft . . . the word should be 'excellent' . . . things to emulate - and they could see that this thing of being a successful woman in a challenging environment could work and work well - right before their very eyes.

    She will be missed. But she will be remembered in many many hearts and minds.

  4. i am a former virginia tech student and never had the chance to know her personally, but i have heard her speak on a few occasions. dr. hikes, even before i arrived at virginia tech, was a phenomenal speaker and whose spirit will live on through virginia tech and all of the lives that she touched. may she rest in peace.

  5. I had the privilege to be a classmate of Dr. Zenobia Hikes - nee Lawrence - at Melbourne High School. Zenobia was 1st runner up in the Homecoming Queen Contest, a beautiful, warm and talented young lady. I escorted the 2nd runner up in the contest, Miss Jan Kennedy; the winner and Queen was Paula Gardner. This was a turbulent time in Melbourne of forced bussing, desegregation, integration; a fairly nasty scenario.

    Upon hearing of Zenobia's untimely death, I cried. I had been communicating with Zenobia only a month or so prior to her death regarding the death of another classmate and friend, Elaine. Zenobia took the time to send a short and heartfelt note to me and also Elaine's family. She never mentioned that she was ill. That's Zenobia.

    I wrote a short story about Melbourne High School. It is not for sale, it's free and you can find it on the internet. Zenobia is not mentioned by name. She's a composite. You''ll find a memory there.

    Go with God, my one time friend. The grief comes from the fact that we'll never be fortunate enough to meet another lady like you.

    Bill Hedman

  6. I finally persuaded Bill H to let me link to his short story. You'll find it here: The Other Side of the River.

    Thank you, Bill.

  7. Bill Hedman15/9/09 15:44

    My pleasure, Judith. Wouldn't trade that upbringing for all the coffee in Jamaica. Lotta stories there and Zenobia lived up to her namesake.


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