UNCW Mourns the Passing of Vice Chancellor Patricia Leonard

(University of North Carolina Wilmington News, June 3) 

Dear Campus Community: 

I am writing to you today to share some very sad news. Our beloved Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Pat Leonard, passed away peacefully in her Carolina Beach home yesterday. I know this comes as a heartbreaking shock to many who knew, admired and loved “VCPL,” as she was known by many generations of students. 

I join you in your sense of loss, and in offering our sympathy to Pat’s wife and partner, Susan, and her family.  

Pat has been a part of UNCW for 37 years. During that time, we graduated ninety percent of our alumni. She built one of the most prestigious divisions of student affairs in the country and was well-known among her peer professionals in student affairs, both in North Carolina and throughout higher education, as a collegial, thoughtful partner in so many meaningful endeavors. It is hard to imagine this campus before her, and virtually impossible to think about it without her moving forward. Simply put, UNCW wouldn’t exist the way it does today without all of the work and passion Pat put forth since her arrival in 1983. 

Chancellor Leutze named Pat as Vice Chancellor in 1996. But from the beginning, in her first role as associate dean of students, Pat forged a path of school spirit and a culture of inclusiveness. She built upon existing areas of strength and asked the hard questions about how UNCW could grow and improve. She believed in everyone’s ability to reach higher, but also in a responsibility to reach back and help those still finding their footing. She was tireless in all ways: in the time she offered any student who needed support, and in how she led her division, collaborated with her colleagues, and mentored staff from all areas of campus. 

From the beginning, Pat was determined to create and foster traditions and rituals at our young university – Move-In Celebration for new students was one she was proud to champion – because these traditions helped students build connections with each other and an affinity and sense of pride among the Seahawk Nation. In fact, in recent years, she made time to play cornhole with students on Hoggard Lawn, which always delighted even the students she beat.

Many buildings on this campus didn’t just spring up around Pat during her decades here. They sprang up because of her vision and her collaboration with others, and because of her fierce and unwavering commitment to giving our students every possible opportunity to learn, grow, create their path and solidify their purpose. She wanted them to live and learn in college among the best staff and facilities possible. Pat was also a true advocate for all UNCW students, including members of SGA, other student leaders, and students of myriad backgrounds. She gave voice to students with concerns and needs, and assisted in making spaces for several cultural centers on campus (including the expansion of Centro Hispano and the placement of the LGBTQIA Center). Under her leadership, the CARE office received national accolades and served students in need of critical advocacy. 

Pat’s work toward renovating the Fisher Student Center and Fisher University Union, Warwick Center and Burney Center, based on her close relationship to the Herbert Fisher family and their generous donations, will leave a lasting legacy as the heart of campus, where students, faculty, staff and guests visit and build community every day. Pat’s influence and drive in imagining, planning and executing massive construction projects will never be replicated here. When Pat arrived, UNCW was known as a “suitcase campus,” with limited co-curricular programs and few things to do on evenings and weekends. But with years of planning, hiring progressive and creative staff, and creating her vision (and a mantra: “Creating Experiences for Life”), she made the campus a home for thousands of students. Her emphasis on creating exceptional living and learning spaces in our residential communities was also a hallmark of her time as UNCW’s Chief Student Affairs Officer. The students, faculty and staff who enjoy use of our state-of-the-art Student Recreation Center also owe tribute to Pat’s vision and emphasis on the importance of fitness and wellness at UNCW. Read more.