Updated: 4:30 p.m. Oct. 1
by Hope Sandusky and Jamil Oakford
Chancellor Erma Johnson Hadley, the first woman and first African-American to become chancellor of Tarrant County College, died today after a long battle with pancreatic cancer at the age of 73.
Vice chancellor Angela Robinson was confirmed by the board of trustees as acting chancellor at an emergency board meeting this afternoon. The meeting was held over a conference call with Robinson and board president Louise Appleman present. Appleman said the details of Robinson’s contract will 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.
Appleman said she first met Chancellor Hadley when Appleman came to TCC in 1988 but grew closer to her over the past few years.
“Everyone knew this, but she was larger than life,” she 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’s humor and tenacity is something that resounded with faculty and staff members as well as her passion and care for the students of TCC.
“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.”
Appleman said that after Hadley was unable to 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 the strength that Hadley had.
“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.”
Former vice chancellor Bill Lace recalls one of Hadley’s birthday parties, where he was suffering a toothache and wasn’t feeling up to dancing at the party. Hadley took the dance floor, looked at him and told him to start dancing.
“She crooked her finger at me and said, ‘Come on!'” he said. “When I think of Erma, I think determined, passionate, always in a hurry.”
Former associate vice chancellor Jane Harper remembers working with Hadley on their very first day when NE Campus opened.
“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 that 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.”
Legal assistant 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 where 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 asked 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.”
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.”
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Hadley grew up in Leggett, Texas, graduated 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 in Texas 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 PBS, Hadley said that 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.”
After joining NE as a charter faculty member in 1968, 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.
Hadley was named interim chancellor by the board with the departure of former chancellor Leonardo de la Garza in 2009. In 2010, she was given the job permanently.
In her time as chancellor, Hadley worked on ensuring TCC reaches as many students as possible while keeping up with the latest technology.
In a previous interview with The Collegian, Hadley said that TCC’s greatest accomplishment is how it has served the community.
“[TCC] is making college affordable and accessible to the people of Tarrant County,” she said.
Some of Hadley’s personal achievements have included being inducted into the 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 degree in education from Paul Quinn College in Dallas.
Click below to view a video from KERA about Hadley’s career.