The community owes South Puget Sound Community College President Gerald Pumphrey a debt of gratitude for a job well done.
Pumphrey is set to retire next month after six years at the helm. It seems like just the other day that this lanky, bespectacled college administrator with a Carolina drawl arrived on the scene from Bellingham where he had served five years as president of Bellingham Technical College.
This likeable man who genuinely cares about people wasted no time getting to know his college community and the greater Olympia area. Those who shared his company came to know a man who is scholarly yet folksy, an engaging conversationalist yet introspective, a commanding presence yet unpretentious.
As the Great Recession started grinding away at the college budget and both academic and vocational offerings, Pumphrey became its strongest defender in the hearing rooms and offices of the Legislature.
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He helped SPSCC not only weather the financial storm, he helped the college expand and modernize to meet the needs of a growing student population.
Under his leadership, three new buildings were added to the college campus and SPSCC’s oldest permanent structure – Building 22 – is midway through a $30 million renovation. More than ever before, SPSCC feels like and functions like a true college campus.
He is also credited with forging strong relationships with the business community, realizing that by definition a community college must be nimble and adaptive to the needs of an ever-changing work force.
Faculty members, students and college staff all came to know and respect the college president who was both a good listener and a good leader.
Pumphrey leaves office with a few regrets. Earlier this year, he bemoaned the fact that tuition increases have taken a toll on some students’ access to an affordable eduction. He’s also disappointed that SPSCC’s vision of a new campus at Hawks Prairie was derailed by the Great Recession.
On a personal note, Pumphrey was diagnosed with melanoma cancer 18 months ago. All indications are that he is winning that fight, but the confrontation with his own mortality hastened his decision to retire now, rather than later.
A woodworker, a musician, a photographer and family man, Pumphrey will stay plenty busy in retirement. He’ll also be called upon as a civic leader whose counsel on issues confronting South Sound will be welcomed.
A passionate believer in the important role community colleges play in higher education, Pumphrey leaves SPSCC in sound financial and academic shape, a key player in the job training that will help spur the region’s economic recovery.
South Sound and SPSCC have been enriched by the contributions of Gerald Pumphrey.