Students, officials mourn St. Augustine’s University president who died from COVID-19 complications

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The president of St. Augustine’s University, Dr. Irving McPhail, died from COVID-19 related complications, the university confirmed Friday.

“It was devastating and shocking to hear this news. Knowing the nature of the virus, I know it can take twists and turns, and it did,” said Hon. James E. Perry, Board Chair at St. Augustine’s University.

Perry added, “It had us all on sort of an emotional rollercoaster when you hear that it’s a turn for the worse and it looked like it’s getting better and he’s improving, and the next thing you know, he passed.”

McPhail’s death comes just three months after he was appointed as 12th president of St. Augustine’s University, one of many historically Black colleges in the Triangle.

While McPhail’s time on campus was brief, he still managed to make a lasting impact on students.

“He was like a father figure to me,” said Aaliyah Williams, student body president at St. Augustine’s. “He taught me how to be a leader and what it’s gonna take to be an even better leader just as good as him. So it was heartbreaking.”

Perry described McPhail as a “leader of wisdom, intellect, gravitas, and bearing.” He added, “We’ve lost a transformative leader who told his wife that this was his dream job.”

McPhail’s vision for his dream job was to add STEM, entrepreneurship, and social justice innovation centers on campus. He discussed some those goals in an interview with CBS17’s Marius Payton over the summer.

“My hope is that St. Augustine’s University will be able to be the beneficiary of some of this renewed interest and focus on education for the African-American community,” McPhail said at the time.

The university plans on pushing forward with McPhail’s blueprint.

“Sometimes when you have loss, it’s tragic, but it becomes an inspiration to take you to higher levels and to fulfill the legacy and promise of that person. And that’s exactly what this has done,” Perry said.

Dr. Maria Lumpkin will step in and serve as interim president.

Perry said CBS17 McPhail did not catch the virus from campus, and that no students were infected. For that reason, he said the university does not have immediate plans to change its COVID-19 prevention plan.

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