After posting on Facebook just last night about the void left by the loss of our dear Dr. J. Earl Danieley, I was jolted yesterday morning by the news that Dr. Leo Lambert is stepping down as president of Elon University.

I am deeply happy for Lambert, his wife Laurie and their family. Lambert has worked so hard all these many years to lead this institution into a brighter future, and Elon has been nothing short of transformed under his leadership. Nonetheless — like many of you, no doubt — I am also saddened to see his tenure as our president drawing to a close.

Over the years, I have been touched so many times by Leo’s personal warmth and ready laugh, the way he offers his concentrated attention as if you are the only person with him even in a room full of other folks and also by that look of concentrated concern that often comes over his resting face. This is an expression I take to be the outward map of a restless mind tirelessly working out strategies to move beyond the good toward the better and, even further, to the best.

I wonder if any of us truly realize just how unique Lambert is among university presidents. Along with so many other attributes, what an honor has it been to call him by his first name and, what’s more, that he has made the effort to remember so very many of our own?

If an institution takes on something of the personality of its leader, then Elon is a savvier, more caring and inclusive university for having had him at our helm.

One conversation with Lambert I will always remember. It was just before the start of a new academic year, after an unprecedented time of progress marked by a spate of expansion and new construction on our campus. We were in line for coffee at Oak House, and I shared a longstanding and heartfelt concern.

“Leo,” I ventured. “I’m worried that with all the rapid changes taking place, Elon might lose its soul, that indefinable something that has made this place so special to so many for so long.”

After a moment of reflection, he said reassuringly, “L.D., there should never be a time when we are not concerned about losing that special something.”

It was, of course, the politic thing to say, but I also knew that he meant every word.

Sure enough, a few days later, there he was, giving an opening address in which he called us all back to the very thing that sets us apart as a university for the new millennium. This very thing is much more than fancy fountains or flashy screens. It’s the one attribute I’ve heard faculty, staff and students identify down through the years as the one most essential reason they love and honor Elon University: the priceless, irreplaceable value of human relationships.

I am grateful to know this fine man, Dr. Leo Lambert, as my president, my colleague and my friend. We are all of us better for having had him in our presence these many years.

And, though Dr. Danieley has moved on, we can take great assurance in knowing that Leo will still be here as president emeritus to help guide us through this crucial transition to a new leader and beyond.

Long live Elon! Long live Leo!


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