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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Ulysses 'Van' Spiva, ODU's First Minority Dean, Dies in Virginia Beach

By Brendan O'Hallarn

Ulysses "Van" Spiva, who was appointed Old Dominion University's first African American dean in 1979, has died in Virginia Beach.

Spiva was professor emeritus of educational leadership and counseling and dean emeritus of Old Dominion University's Darden College of Education. Spiva was appointed dean in 1979, making him the first member of a minority group promoted to that rank at the University. He served until 1984, then remained at the University as chair of the Department of Education Leadership and Counseling. He was given the title Professor Emeritus in 1994 at his retirement.

Spiva, who began his academic career in 1955 as a math teacher, department chair and adult-school principal in Cleveland, also held positions at Florida International University and Nova University.

A graduate of Tennessee State University, Case Western Reserve University and Stanford University, Spiva dedicated himself to improving the condition of all Americans, regardless of background. Spiva was proud that the Darden College of Education was the first at Old Dominion University to appoint a female department chair.

He was awarded Old Dominion University's 1994 Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award.

"Not only was Ulysses 'Van' Spiva a pioneer at Old Dominion University; he was also a decent, kind and thoughtful man," said John R. Broderick, the president of Old Dominion. "He regularly reached out to me, and both I and the university benefited from his wisdom."

In fact, long after he left the University, Spiva was an advocate for Old Dominion. He wrote a letter to the University publication the Courier in support of the University's decision to restart its football program after 69 years.

"I will always remember New Year's Day 1971, when Stanford University (one of my alma maters) beat Ohio State University 27-17 in the Rose Bowl. It was my first and only visit to the Rose Bowl. Now, more than 38 years later, the excitement of a football game conjures up more pleasant memories about my college days than anything I can remember. I am extremely pleased that perhaps now some of our ODU alumni will experience such an opportunity in recalling their days as students at ODU," Spiva wrote.

In his academic career, Spiva published three books and numerous research papers and reports. He was a former president of the Virginia Association of Colleges of Teacher Education.

Spiva was an appointed member of the Virginia Beach School Board from 1986 to 1992. He served as an elected member 1994 to 1996. In 2008, Spiva received the Elijah Mays Lifetime Achievement Award from the National School Boards Association's Council of Urban Board of Education (CUBE), in recognition of his career of scholarship, teaching, mentorship and community activism.

"We want to recognize Ulysses Spiva as someone who has made a great impact on the lives of many children, and as a role model with passion and excellence in scholarship and civic responsibility," CUBE wrote in presenting the award.

Ulysses "Van" Spiva is survived by his wife, Olivia "Libby" Spiva, two daughters, one son and three grandsons. The funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 2 at Bank Street Baptist Church in Norfolk.