Hundreds gather for celebration of life held for late NCCU chancellor

December 2, 2016 GMT

Hundreds of students, staff and community members gathered Friday afternoon at N.C. Central University for a celebration of life service in honor of late Chancellor Debra Saunders-White.

Saunders-White died last Saturday after a battle with cancer. She was 59.

Several people who spoke at the service noted how Saunders-White had a brilliant mind, a big heart and a big personality. People also talked about her accomplishments and how she was a first-generation college student.

UNC-System President Margaret Spellings said Saunders-White was the type of chancellor who made friends with students, rather than keeping them at arm’s length.


“She did a lot with our athletic department,” said Jada Brown, a student at NCCU. “She was very active with the students. She let us come in for office hours and stuff like that. She meant a lot.”

“There wasn’t anything that gave her more joy than seeing young people come here and be successful,” said Dr. Avis Artis, a friend of Saunders-White.

A funeral for Saunders-White is scheduled for Saturday at 11 a.m. at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Hampton, Virginia.

Saunders-White became chancellor at the historically black college in 2013 and is credited with improving the classroom and campus experience through the “Eagle Excellence” campaign. She previously worked at the U.S. Department of Education and other schools, including Hampton University in Virginia.

She took a medical leave in August, several months after she was diagnosed with kidney cancer.