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Dr. Wright Lassiter Jr.’s career is one of many “firsts”: first black college president in the State University of New York (SUNY) system; one of the first African Americans appointed to a bank’s board of directors in Dallas; a member of the White House Commission on Minority Business Development, the first group to create the term “Historically Under-utilized Businesses” (now called HUBs); the only African American who has received the Russell Perry Award for Servant Leadership from Dallas Baptist University (where he is a graduate school faculty member and former chair of the board of regents); and the first African American to serve as chancellor of the Dallas County Community College District, to name only a few.
Beginning with the fall 2013 semester, DCCCD’s retiring chancellor began to count down a list of “lasts”: final fall and spring semesters as chancellor; final lunch and interview with student newspaper editors; final visits with elected officials and state legislators; final trustees meetings; final cabinet meetings; and his final, formal farewell to the higher education community, family members, friends and the Dallas County Community College District during a special evening Jan. 27 at the Hall of State at Fair Park, near downtown Dallas.
Filled with toe-tapping notes played by members of the Eastfield College Jazz Ensemble (directed by Dr. Oscar Passley) and graced with tributes from several governmental offices, Dr. Lassiter’s retirement program evoked memories of his 20 years of service as president of El Centro College and almost eight years as DCCCD’s sixth chancellor.
Guests from businesses, the community and all colleges and locations of DCCCD – plus family members and friends – filled the majestic hall, which was backlit in ways that added to the elegance of the occasion. Hellos, goodbyes and handshakes were the order of the evening, and guests vied for time to have their picture taken with the chancellor (and to share their best wishes with him, too).
Attendees – and the chancellor – enjoyed a short video featuring employees who were asked to describe Dr. Lassiter in three words. Those words ranged from mentor, servant leader, statesman and teacher to descriptors such as wise, kind, inspirational, caring – and tall!
Jerry Prater, chair of the DCCCD board of trustees, spoke on the group’s behalf, thanking Dr. Lassiter for his leadership and his service. “It’s been a pleasure and an honor to work with you,” said Prater. “We thank you for your service, for your leadership and for your dedication to this district and our students.”
When Dr. Lassiter promised a short speech, laughter rippled through the room. He said, “I’ll make this short – because you know I could go on for several hours!” While the chancellor thanked everyone for their support, hard work, for friendship and efforts on behalf of all students, he reminded the audience about one of his favorite quotes: that ‘the largest room in any house is the room for improvement.’” His words echoed across the room as members of the audience recited the often-heard comment.