The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Chancellor Hadley dies after battle with cancer

By Hope Sandusky/ editor-in-chief

From her time as an instructor on NE Campus to becoming head of Tarrant County College in 2010, Chancellor Erma Johnson Hadley left an impression on everyone she met.

Hadley speaks at the dedication of TR Campus in 2009. Hadley was named interim chancellor that year after the departure of Leonardo de la Garza. She was made permanent in 2010.
Hadley speaks at the dedication of TR Campus in 2009. Hadley was named interim chancellor that year after the departure of Leonardo de la Garza. She was made permanent in 2010.

“Everyone knew this, but she was larger than life,” board president Louise Appleman said. “She had a great sense of humor. She was so strong and willful, sometimes to a fault. If she believed in something, then get out of her way and help her because she was going to do it.”

Hadley, the first woman and first African-American to become chancellor, died Oct. 1 at the age of 73 after a yearlong battle with pancreatic cancer.

Vice chancellor Angela Robinson was confirmed by the board of trustees as acting chancellor at an emergency board meeting hours later. The meeting was held over a conference call with Robinson and Appleman present. Appleman said the details of Robinson’s contract would be determined at a later date.

“We all learned from the Chancellor, and we will carry on as she taught us,” Robinson said in a statement. “The leaders who comprise the 12-member Chancellor’s Executive Leadership Team are experienced and up to the challenge. Erma would have us pull together and work hard on behalf of those we serve, and that is what we are doing.”

Appleman said she received the call about Hadley’s death at 5:30 a.m.

“This was a call I’ve been expecting, but not one you’re ever ready for,” she said.

Hadley grew up in Leggett, Texas, graduated from high school in 1959 and became the first African-American from Leggett to go to college. She went on to attend Prairie View A&M University to earn a bachelor’s degree in business education before receiving her master’s in business education from Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

She began teaching in Panola County at Turner High School. In an interview with KERA, Hadley said she had fallen in love with teaching.

“I fell in love with what I was able to do with students,” she said. “I still say today, teaching is magical.”

She joined NE as an office occupations instructor when the campus opened in 1968.

Former associate vice chancellor Jane Harper remembers working with Hadley on their very first day when NE started.

“We came in young, enthusiastic and eager for this opportunity,” she said. “We were here to change the world, and we stayed at it for 47 years.”

Harper said she and Hadley worked well together, learning from each other when it came to making the college a better place.

“She was the great visionary,” she said. “She really had this welfare for the people. She was just consumed by it, and it was a wonderful thing to see. She taught the rest of us the significance of that view. She taught us well.”

Hadley moved up through the ranks at TCC, holding positions that included director of personnel, vice chancellor for human resources and vice chancellor for administrative and community services.

In former vice chancellor Bill Lace’s upcoming book on the 50-year history of TCC, he describes Hadley’s reluctance after being approached by former chancellor C.A. Roberson about moving from teaching to a downtown administrative job. Roberson finally persuaded Hadley to take the job, but she wanted to know if this was a real job or was she being hired to make the department look more diverse.

“And I think that kind of took C.A. by surprise,” Hadley told Lace in the book. “Then he laughed and said, ‘I guarantee you this is a real job.’’’

Hadley recalled to Lace that later when she worked on the affirmative action plan that the board adopted in 1974, Roberson looked at her and asked, “Still think this isn’t a real job?”

She was named interim chancellor by the board after the departure of former chancellor Leonardo de la Garza in 2009. In 2010, she was given the job permanently, making her the college’s fourth chancellor.

In her time as chancellor, Hadley accomplished a number of things including increasing the average number of students enrolled per year and starting the first full Weekend College. But her humor and tenacity are something that resounded with faculty and staff members as well as her passion and care for students.

“If there was ever a question or problem about anything, her question was always ‘What will be best for students?’” Appleman said. “She would engage with students everywhere — in elevators, at grocery stores, on campuses. She would always say, ‘Stay on the line.’ It took me a while to figure out what that meant, but she wanted students to stay oriented, to stay focused and driven. I always appreciated that about her. I have found myself saying the same thing to students now.”

Legal assistant program professor Karen Silverberg worked with Hadley for 19 years.

“She had a lot of humor to her,” she said. “She cared about being serious when necessary, but when new people were introduced to the board, her humor really came out. She was light. I was with her at multiple campuses on multiple occasions, and she always took time to meet with students and ask them how they were doing in school and what we could do to make it better. That’s just who she was. She cared for the students more than they may ever know.”

Hadley was also well known for her strength and grit, even after her diagnosis.

“When I think of Erma, I think determined, passionate, always in a hurry,” Lace said.

Appleman said that after Hadley could not attend the Chancellor’s Breakfast in August, she had to rewrite the initial speech she had prepared. She found a quote that she said reminded her of Hadley’s strength.

“It said, ‘In life, there are three choices: give up, give in or give it your all.’ That was so her,” she said. “She gave everything a good shot and a good fight. No one is perfect, but she was absolutely the right person at the right place at the right time.”

Some of Hadley’s achievements have included being inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame in 2010 as well as being appointed to the Trinity River Authority of Texas and the Texas Governor’s Committee on Volunteerism. She has also received an honorary doctorate in education from Paul Quinn College in Dallas.

Appleman sent out a letter to the TCC community announcing Hadley’s death.

“This is a sad and difficult time for all of us,” Appleman wrote in the letter. “We will miss our leader and friend. She meant so much to so many.”

Hadley is survived by her husband Bill Hadley, her daughter T. Ardenia Gould and her sisters Betty Griffin and Doris McGinnies.

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