Debra Saunders-White Dies Of Cancer At 59: NCCU Chancellor Diagnosed With Kidney Cancer In 2015

Debra Saunders-White, the 11th chancellor of North Carolina Central University (NCCU), passed away Saturday at the age of 59.

According to a statement issued by the university, Saunders-White died after battling cancer. She was reportedly diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2015 and took a medical leave from the university on August 8, 2016.

The numerous contributions that Debra Saunders-White made to NCCU started when she made history in 2013 by becoming the institution’s first female permanent leader in February of 2013. Nearly four months after that milestone was reached, Debra assumed her position as chancellor on June 1, 2013.

UNC President Margaret Spellings honored Debra Saunders-White in an official statement that was published on the university’s website, claiming that the entire UNC system was affected by the loss of a “great leader” as well as “a valued colleague and friend.”

“Deb loved NCCU with all her being and treated each of its students as her very own. She called them her light and her inspiration as she waged her battle with cancer… Deb will be remembered for her positive outlook on life, her unwavering faith and determination and her commitment to Eagle Excellence.”

Saunders-White’s vision of “Eagle Excellence” primarily focused on delivering excellence throughout the campus classrooms and through community service. NCCU Board of Trustees Chairman George Hamilton stated that Debra’s vision and leadership helped the university to generate significant increases in key performance areas including graduation and retention rates. He further expressed that Saunders-White’s valued contributions helped to distinguish North Carolina Central University within the U.S. higher education marketplace, allowing them to gain even more recognition as the 2015 HBCU of the Year by Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Digest.

According to Spellings, Saunders-White’s personal experience as a first-generation college graduate helped her to understand the rarity of opportunities made available through higher education and the challenges many young people face in being able to access and afford it.

Acting Chancellor Dr. Johnson O. Akinleye referred to Debra Saunders-White as a “powerhouse of energy and wit” who “spent her life passionately executing on her visionary and transformative strategy of using education to create opportunity.”

Based on the response and reactions to her death on social media, Debra Saunders-White had a major impact on many other people besides NCCU faculty and staff members.

Debra Saunders-White thanked her family, friends, and the NCCU community in late October in a heartwarming post on Facebook.

“It is with enormous humility that I take this opportunity to thank you for your continued love, support and encouragement. Over the past several months, I have received beautiful cards, letters and other generous expressions of well-wishes and love. I often thought about how I would acknowledge them, as I wish that I could write every single person an individual thank-you. I pray that you will accept this heartfelt letter as a gesture of my deep and sincere appreciation.”

Debra Saunders-White further acknowledged the vast number of people that used kind adjectives to highlight how strong she was and her “immense” appreciation for their expressions. She closed out her statement by expressing how “incredibly grateful” she was for their compassion and love while also congratulating her daughter Paige White for passing the New York State Bar Exam.

[Featured Image by Debra Saunders-White/Facebook]

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