Gregory Wolfe, the FIU president who brought life to BBC, has died

Gregory Wolfe, right, with Ella Fitzgerald when visited FIU in 1980.

Gregory B. Wolfe’s death was announced with “tremendous sadness, great respect” and an appreciation for the legacy of a president of FIU who made it into a full four-year university and made the Biscayne Bay Campus what it is today.

Wolfe, FIU’s third president, died on the night of December 12; he was 93.

“We, the FIU family, have lost one of our own,” President Mark Rosenberg wrote in a message to the university’s community.

Wolfe ran FIU from 1979-1986 and leaves behind his wife, Mary Anne Wolfe, two daughters and a son: Laura, Melissa and Nelson.

“Our thoughts today are with Mary Ann and the couple’s family,” Rosenberg wrote in his message.

During his tenure, Wolfe successfully lobbied the Florida Legislature to move FIU from an upper division university to a full, four-year university.

The University’s first-ever freshmen, who were dubbed the “First-Class First Class,” began taking courses on Aug. 26, 1981.

And the University added the School of Engineering, the School of Nursing and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Wolfe was the president who added the first student residential housing, a new student center, an aquatic center and a library to BBC, the sometimes overlooked campus in North Miami.

Back then BBC was called the Interama Campus and the City of North Miami used to own it: the land and the hospitality management building, which was the only building there at the time.

Barbara Bader, director of Educational Leadership Enhancement Program, said a part of Wolfe’s presidency was negotiating with city and state officials for the property to become a part of FIU.

Bader said the campus opened with the one building and “a host of portable buildings.”

A memorial service is tentatively planned for January 2016 at BBC.

Under Wolfe’s tenure, FIU also began offering adult education programs.

Modesto Maidique succeeded Wolfe, and during Maidique’s term administrators named the Wolfe University Center after Wolfe to recognize his accomplishments.

“It is our great fortune that he served us so well,” Rosenberg wrote.

The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts was where Wolfe earned his Ph.D. before undertaking an international career that included diplomatic and military service.

He served in World War II, worked for the U.S. State Department as an intelligence analyst and worked on the White House staffs of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

From 1968-1974, Wolfe was president of Portland State University in Oregon.

Wolfe was the son of Russian immigrants but was born in California.

He and Mary Ann were known to have served breakfast to students and Wolfe danced with the late Ella Fitzgerald when she visited what was then University Park in the 1980s.

Bader, who is now a faculty ombudsperson, said Wolfe was as a man of the people, often speaking to custodians, gardeners and cafeteria workers in either French, Spanish, German or Portuguese; he learned those four languages during his time as a linguist long before he was appointed FIU president.   

“He treated students, custodial workers, and faculty members alike,” Bader said. “With the highest degree of respect.”

After Wolfe resigned as president is when his friendship with Bader developed.

When Wolfe reached his 80s, every year Bader and Ruth Hamilton, former director of the Graham Center, would pick he and his wife up and take them on trips to a restaurant for Wolfe’s birthday.

Wolfe loved wine and Belgian chocolates and his gifts were usually one or both of those.

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