by Henry Lane Hull
The most memorable and lasting legacy of the first administration of Governor Mills Godwin was the establishment of the community college system across Virginia.
At that time the governor promised that every citizen would live within 25 miles of a campus. Perhaps he did not know the geography of the lower Northern Neck, but we were more than 25 miles from the campuses (or should I say “campi?”) of Rappahannock Community College in Warsaw and Glenns, both of which facilities developed numerous programs of inestimable benefit to the region.
Fifteen years ago RCC began a new era of growth and enhancement with the arrival of Dr. Elizabeth H. Crowther as the school’s third president. Sissy Crowther was the ideal choice to lead the college into a truly golden age. A native of the Northern Neck with generations of family history behind her, she was qualified uniquely to serve the growing needs of the community.
Under her leadership the school has grown exponentially in the programs it offers, and has attracted a vibrant student body of eager learners. Sissy has established sound programs of academic excellence that have enabled RCC to partner with many four-year colleges and universities to secure admission for RCC graduates to proceed in their attainment of higher education. In this effort she has made graduation from a university a realistic prospect for many of the youth coming forth from our high schools.
Her work has been directed toward making the college of service to multiple generations of citizens in degree-oriented programs, technical training and mere enrichment courses that continue to provide knowledge and skills to everyone motivated to learn at any level and at any age. In that respect, she has brought together a broad base of individuals committed to learning and given them truly the opportunity and gift of a lifetime.
Sissy is a person who always has time for others. The bedrock of all of her success at RCC has been her ability and willingness to listen. The work she has done and the results she has achieved have been the fruits of her genuine concern for her school to be of service to the people of the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula. By listening she has been able to proceed with the assurance that she was carrying out the wishes of those who live in her service area, giving them the educational openings they otherwise might not have been able to pursue.
Returning to the theme with which I began, Sissy has made Governor Godwin’s words come true at last with the establishment of the Kilmarnock branch of RCC, a mini-campus that offers programs which afford our local residents a variety of forms of education and training here and now.
When I look back on Sissy’s outstanding career in academe I think of the evening three decades ago when I came into Lee’s Restaurant for supper, and I saw her at a booth across the room having dinner with her parents. I spoke and wished them a nice meal, to which her father, the late Prosser Crowther, called over to me, “It’s especially good because she’s paying,” nodding to Sissy.
Indeed for the past 15 years Sissy has been “paying” with her time, talent and resources to ensure the people of our vast region have affordable and quality education thereby enhancing their lives as well as those of all of us who live here. This week she is retiring from the academic world, returning to her farm, and looking forward to new challenges and areas in which to contribute. She is a born educator, one who has understood the value of learning as the great treasure it is.
On a daily basis we think of and see markers that remind us of people who have made the Northern Neck the exceptional place it has become over the last four centuries. Sissy stands in the forefront of those who are continuing the advancement of that legacy in our time. Everyone is beholden to her for these many magnificent accomplishments that have served to the benefit of us all.