The fact that everyone here has been sharing their thoughts about Elson Floyd, both publicly and privately, tells you something. It's pretty remarkable to see the outpouring of emotion following the news of Floyd's death, and the affirmation of how much people truly liked him came with it. It's rare to see and tells you just how special he was to those who knew him.
While the medical school was Dr. Floyd's greatest accomplishment, and something he pushed so incredibly hard for while fighting for his life, it won't be the only legacy he leaves behind. Despite how grand of an achievement the medical school is, Dr. Floyd did something much more abstract but also meaningful in his time at Washington State. He didn't just save money, balance budgets and squeeze out raises for employees, all of which were important procedural pieces of his administration.
Instead, the legacy Dr. Floyd leaves behind at Washington State is the culture he instilled at the university.
When Dr. Floyd was hired to lead Washington State University, I assumed it'd be a five year and out job. He would come in as a mercenary, clean up after the previous administration, and go on his way to bigger and better things. It was immediately apparent that Dr. Floyd was a star, and it felt like he would set the school up in a great spot and move along to the next project.
I was way off. Dr. Floyd committed to more than five years, putting permanent roots down in Pullman. He never did anything halfway, and it became apparent that he had fallen in love with the Washington State community, just as all of us did. He quickly became One Of Us, and stayed that way.
Dr. Floyd quickly set about changing the perception of the office of the president -- and, for those that remember, this perception wasn't good among students and alumni alike -- one handshake, one hug, one "how are you?" at a time. From the moment he took office, Dr. Floyd put himself out as the public face of Washington State University. He did it in Pullman, in Olympia, in Seattle, at conferences across the country, and … well, in the student section at basketball games.
All of this was important. To secure donations, lobby the legislature, and keep the students happy, Dr. Floyd knew he had to connect with everyone that has a hand in making Washington State such an amazing place. He started his job by listening, learning, and then putting things into practice, starting with immersing himself in the traditions of WSU.
Washington State wouldn't be what it is today without Dr. Floyd's leadership and the outreach he did from the moment he took over as president. The school diversified its enrollment to more accurately reflect the demographics of the state under his watchful eye. He didn't try to fix the budget during the recession by leaning heavily into out-of-state students and the high tuition rates that come along with it, either. Washington State is, first and foremost, a school for Washington residents.
Everything Dr. Floyd accomplished was done with an eye toward the long-term, and the overall goal of making Washington State University the very best institution it could be -- both now and in the future.
I don't even remember exactly when I met Dr. Floyd, but I do remember the jokes about our last name that started right away. Not just the first time I met him, either: It was a running thing that spanned my time in Pullman. The ability to put names to faces and remember the smallest details about people is something that's been mentioned in just about every story about Dr. Floyd, and for good reason. It made anyone that met him feel connected to him. He cared about you. Yes, you.
As Michael mentioned, Dr. Floyd was your friend. He was my friend, and the news of his death was a punch in the gut. I spent quite a bit of time engaged with Dr. Floyd while I was in school, both in a cooperative role and an adversarial role at times. Yet in the latter, there was never any contention, and nobody walked away angry at the other side. He had an amazing ability to lobby for his viewpoint while also listening, taking feedback and adjusting. He did all this while making you feel at ease.
We all lost a friend on Saturday, and it still hurts. But despite losing an absolute titan of a leader and an incredible visionary, the legacy Dr. Floyd left behind at Washington State will live on. It'll live on in the medical school that should bear his name. It'll live on in the world class research institution WSU has become.
Most of all, the legacy of Dr. Elson Floyd will live on in the culture he created and the bonds he formed with so many during his time as the leader of our fine school.