John William Elrod President, Washington and Lee University, 1995–2001
John William Elrod was born in Griffin, Ga., on Jan. 21, 1940. He had a B.A. in English from Presbyterian College, and a master's degree and a Ph.D. in the philosophy of religion from Columbia University. He taught philosophy at the Union Theological Seminary, in New York, and chaired the philosophy department at Iowa State University. His area of expertise was Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, about whom he wrote two books.
Elrod joined W&L as dean of the College in 1984. He became the vice president for academic affairs in 1987 and the president in 1995. During his presidency, the University celebrated its 250th anniversary; the Commerce School became the Ernest Williams II School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics; and the Shepherd Program for the Interdisciplinary Study of Poverty and Human Capability was established. He also oversaw the growth and diversification of the faculty, especially supporting the addition of female students, staff, faculty and trustees.
During Elrod's time, the campus underwent significant expansion. New, expanded and renovated facilities included the Science Center, the Lee Chapel museum, the sorority houses, the parking garage, the baseball field, Reid Hall and the Lenfest Center. The University also broke ground on a student commons; completed after his death, it now bears his name. He envisioned it as the living room of the University.
He played a key role in two capital campaigns, and during his tenure the endowment grew from $190 million to $445 million; annual giving grew by more than 50 percent; and grants nearly tripled.
Elrod was diagnosed with cancer in 1999. He remained at the helm of the University until he died, on July 27, 2001.