The PC and Clinton communities lost a true friend and generous benefactor with the passing of Virginia Gray Vance on August 28.
“Our hearts are heavy with the loss of this most gracious lady who was committed to making her community and our College the best it could be,” said President Bob Staton ’68. “Her legacy to PC will be long-remembered. Phyllis and I feel blessed to have been able to visit with her regularly, enjoying not only the famously delicious cheese biscuits she graciously served, but her infectious laugh, stories of Clinton and PC, and pictures of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”
From the beginning, Mrs. Vance believed that her call to service included playing an active role in the betterment of her community and the education of its children. She observed the need in our community and worked with others to make Clinton a better home for all.
In addition to serving on the boards of several community organizations, including Thornwell Home and School for Children, Mrs. Vance also served as the Chair of the Board of her alma mater, Queens College (now Queens University).
The Vances shared a love for Presbyterian College. While Mr. Robert Vance served as chairman of the Board of Trustees, Mrs. Vance was the gracious face of college hospitality to those who came from far and wide to study and teach here. She was the quintessential lady, warmly sincere, unfailingly kind, and possessed of a rare ability to put others at their ease, no matter the situation.
She walked the campus regularly, greeting those she met and reveling in the beauty of the Georgian architecture found just one block from her home, a beauty she shared eagerly with her children, and later with her grandchildren.
A faithful supporter of the PC Blue Hose, Mrs. Vance attended every College event she could, from arts to athletics. She made many homesick students recognize her as “that wonderful lady whose smile always makes us feel at home.”
The Vances generously supported PC and its students through several decades. Many alumni can remember events in the Vances’ garden, which they graciously opened for student-organized events and photos. The most recent philanthropic gift from the Vance family was to the Neville Renewed Campaign. In honor of their gift, the newly reopened rotunda area was named the Mary Bailey Vance Suitt Rotunda and Bailey Art Galleries, in memory of the Vances’ daughter who served on the PC Board of Trustees, and had a strong desire to share her appreciation of art with PC and the Clinton community. Prior to its reopening, Mrs. Vance was able to tour Neville Hall and view the rotunda honoring her daughter.
PC and its faculty, staff and students have benefited greatly from the philanthropic spirit of Virginia and Robert Vance, and for their desire to pass that spirit down to their children and grandchildren. Their grandchildren, Fleming Patterson, Mary Ellen Barnwell and Ben Suitt continue to play an integral role in the Bailey Galleries. Mary Ellen is married to PC alumnus Brian Barnwell, who currently serves on the PC Alumni Board.
“We are deeply appreciative of the philanthropic spirit and affinity for PC that Robert and Virginia have passed on to their children and grandchildren,” said President Staton. “PC has been, and continues to be, a better place because of the Vance family and their desire to make Clinton and Presbyterian College a great place to live, work and play.”
The College awarded an Honorary Doctor of Public Service degree in 1999 to Mrs. Vance in recognition of her remarkable contributions to the College and the community of Clinton. In addition to being a Guardian of PC and a Patron of PC, she was named a Distinguished Member of the William Plumer Jacobs Society in 2013.
She accepted both with characteristic modesty, once again refusing graciously to believe that her efforts on behalf of others were worthy of such recognition.
The College will certainly miss the presence of this good and faithful servant leader in our community. We know, however, that the legacy that will follow her life will impact the College community and our students for years to come.
For more information on Mrs. Vance’s life, please find her obituary here.