Mary Edmonds, the former vice provost of student affairs who led a restructuring of Stanford’s student services during her eight-year tenure at the university, died Oct. 11 in Los Angeles. She was 85.

Mary Edmonds

When former Stanford Vice Provost for Student Affairs Mary Edmonds came to Stanford in 1992, she became the highest-ranking African American administrator in the university’s history. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Stanford friends and colleagues described Edmonds as a pioneer and charismatic leader on campus, in higher education student affairs and in the surrounding community. A Stanford News Service profile of Edmonds described her as “the highest-ranking African American administrator in Stanford’s history.”

Edmonds arrived in 1992 – at a time Professor Condoleezza Rice (who became provost in 1993) remembers as challenging. Stanford was still trying to rehabilitate facilities damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The campus faced budget challenges and an ongoing dispute with the federal government over research costs.

“She was implacable. She was capable. She was elegant,” said Rice, now a professor at the Graduate School of Business and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. Edmonds “embraced Stanford and was a role model for students, staff, faculty and a leader in the community.”

Before coming to Stanford, Edmonds was vice president of student affairs at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Before that, Edmonds was the dean of the College of Health and Community Services. She was the first African American dean at Bowling Green. From 1976 to 1981, Edmonds was the chair of the Department of Health Services at Cleveland State University. Edmonds was the founding director of Cleveland State’s Physical Therapy program.

Edmonds, who was a native of Cleveland, graduated from Spelman College with a bachelor’s degree in biology. She was the class valedictorian.  She later earned a master’s degree in health studies from Case Western Reserve and a doctorate in sociology, also from Case Western Reserve. She also completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research, in 1983. After leaving Stanford, she returned to Spelman as special assistant to the president.

“Mary was a confident and charismatic leader who genuinely cared about people and their success.”

—Shirley Everett

Senior Associate Vice Provost, Residential & Dining Enterprises

Edmonds brought to Stanford a passion for opening educational doors to everyone. She relished her role as a mentor.  While at Stanford, she also held the title of clinical professor in the Department of Health Research and Policy.

“Mary was a confident and charismatic leader who genuinely cared about people and their success,” said Shirley Everett, senior associate vice provost, Residential & Dining Enterprises.

“As a passionate advocate for diversity and inclusion, she was dedicated to advancing social justice and ensuring that students and staff from diverse and underrepresented groups had access to education and opportunities,” Everett said. “Mary held the firm belief that education was power and leaves a legacy of inspiring many to further empower themselves, myself included, as I continued my life-long educational pursuits after having met her and received an MBA and EdD.”

During her years at Stanford, Edmonds restructured the framework of the university’s student services offerings. She chaired a steering committee for NCAA certification of Stanford athletics.  This self-study focused on fiscal integrity, commitment to equity and governance and a commitment to rules compliance.

Edmonds is also remembered for her leadership outside of the campus confines.  Her obituary notes that she “had leadership roles in over thirty organizations and received over twenty honors and awards for her service, including two honorary doctorates and highest honors from the American Physical Therapy Association and the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.”

She was one of the founders of 100 Black Women of Silicon Valley, a chapter of the national volunteer organization dedicated “to drive meaningful change that benefits women of color.”  She was also active in the San Jose chapter of The Links, Inc., one of the nation’s oldest and largest volunteer service organizations committed to “enriching, sustaining and ensuring the culture and economic survival of African Americans.”

“She was never too busy to help the students on campus or in the community,” remembered East Palo Alto resident Lorraine Dabney, who worked on volunteer boards with Edmonds.  “She was a role model for women, a role model for students. She was always there for you.”

Added Everett: “Throughout her illustrious career, Mary served as a mentor for women leaders, particularly for African American women on the campuses she served. Mary will be missed by me and the many lives she touched.”

A memorial service was held to honor Edmonds on Nov. 4. She is survived by her daughter, Jacquelyn Edmonds Cofer; son-in-law, James Cofer Jr.; sister, Virginia Ruth Henderson; brother, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Berry McKinney; brother-in-law, Dr. Perry A. Henderson; sister-in-law, Charlotte Edmonds Jackson; and many nieces, nephews and cousins.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Mary M. Edmonds Scholarship fund at Bowling Green State University.