Elson Floyd was a true man of the people

IT WAS ONE of my first days in Pullman. An incoming freshman, I was an 18-year-old kid scared to death. School was starting in three days and I was getting settled into my dorm in Coman 411. It was my first time away from home.  

I decided to walk around campus and grab a bite to eat, when a man in his early 50s, dressed in a gray suit and tie, approached me.

“How are you young man? I’m Elson Floyd, pleased to meet you.”

Indeed, it was the new president of Washington State University. Dr. Floyd was entering his first fall at WSU and so was I. We had something in common.

As we shook hands, I was nervous as hell. Why in the world was the president of the university talking with me? Is this how it is at every college?

As we spoke, my nervousness went away. He was engaged, upbeat and approachable.

He asked me where I was from, how I was enjoying Pullman and what I was planning to study. He even asked me about my parents when I told him I was Ecuadorian. It was a conversation he probably had with thousands of youngsters, but you could tell he was genuinely interested in his students. He wasn’t just putting on a show to seem like a nice guy.

Over the years, as I covered Cougar athletics, I had the privilege to speak with Dr. Floyd several times. Not for interviews or anything like that, but I’d see him in the press box and we'd always shake hands and say hello. The press box, though, wasn't the only place you'd find him on game days. He'd often be out mingling with students or sitting with them in the stands at Friel Court.

"I flat out have the best job in the country," he once said. "There is something special about WSU and even more special about being a Coug. It's about family taking care of family."

If you knew him, you know he meant every word, right down to the last syllable.

When he handed me my diploma in 2011, I got that firm handshake one last time. It was one of the happiest moments of my life, and he added his million-dollar smile as I walked off stage.

When I was told the news of his passing, my heart dropped. I’m currently in Ecuador on vacation, but I had to excuse myself from my family. Writing helps me relax, so here I am, typing a goodbye to the man that helped change the lives of so many.

It was seven years ago I met Dr. Floyd. Now a 25-year-old alumnus, I can’t be more thankful of what he’s done for my alma mater.

Washington State is on the map in so many ways right now. We’re getting our own medical school. We’re a leader in global health. A pioneer in wine science. On the forefront of taking research into the marketplace. The list goes on.

Under Elson, the phrase “World class, face to face,” became more than a slogan but a way of life.

His support for athletics transformed a department stuck in the 1990s into one poised to compete in the modern era of the Power 5.

Dr. Floyd’s passing has hit us all deeply. He was a son, brother, husband, father and grandfather, but he was also our president and our friend. His legacy will live forever.

Thank you Dr. Floyd for everything you’ve done for Washington State University. I proudly wear the crimson and gray because of everything you’ve done to help us become an elite university. May you Rest in Peace.

WSU has created a memorial web page here in which tributes and condolences may be left. In addition, in lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial gifts to honor President Floyd be made to the Elson S. Floyd Founders Fund for the WSU College of Medicine.

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