Dr. Angela “Angi” Brenton, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Western Carolina University, passed away Wednesday, May 8, after a three-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
Brenton took up residence in Dillsboro after accepting the position of provost at WCU before serving as dean of the College of Professional Studies the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) since 2001.
WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher and Brenton had worked together at UALR, where he served as provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs prior to his appointment as WCU chancellor in 2011, and at Missouri State University, where he was dean of the College of Arts and Letters and she was head of the Department of Communication and Mass Media.
Along with her work at WCU and UALR, Brenton also spent time at Abilene Christian University, Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State), and Clinton School of Public Service. Brenton also taught at Pepperdine University, the University of Kansas, Oklahoma Christian College and the University of Oklahoma.
Brenton guided WCU through a process of program prioritization, the establishment of the university’s new Leadership Academy to nurture faculty and staff leaders, and also helped establish this spring’s inaugural WCU Discovery Forum.
Never one to leave her duties unfulfilled, among Brenton’s top priorities were the hiring of deans to lead WCU’s Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology, College of Arts and Sciences, and College of Health and Human Sciences, according to WCU News Service.
Days after Brenton’s passing, her longtime colleague WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher said, “Our hearts are broken. In her short time in Cullowhee, Angi has been a wonderful colleague and wonderful friend. Although Angi was at Western Carolina for less than a year, she has had a tremendous impact on this university through her leadership on several significant initiatives, and she quickly became a respected and beloved member of the WCU family. Her passing saddens us deeply.”
In his commencement remarks, Belcher said of Brenton, “In just a little over nine months, Angi found her way into the hearts of our Western Carolina University family and led us in transformative change. We will miss her tremendously, even while we pursue the vision she has led in shaping [the University].”
Anne E. Aldrich, executive assistant to the provost, worked closely with Brenton during her time at WCU.
“Dr. Angela Brenton was a dedicated, insightful and innovative leader, and it was a privilege to work with her, albeit briefly,” said Aldrich.
Aldrich continued, “Angi was clearly someone who enjoyed a challenge and when faced with a new charge, one could see the wheels begin to turn in her head, her bright blue eyes would start to sparkle and her foot would begin to tap energetically. The train had left the station, and she was well on her way to accomplishing the goal!
“Angi was a warm and caring individual with a talent for assisting individuals in navigating difficult situations and making tough strategic decisions,” said Aldrich. “Even when the time arrived that Angi could no longer perform her provost duties, her greatest concern was her inability to be of service to the University and the staff in our office. Her spirit will live on in all of us. We will miss her every single day.”
Dr. Steve Brown and Dr. Lisa Briggs of the WCU Department of Criminal Justice had this to say about Brenton: “The loss of Provost Angi Brenton was a painful personal loss to the WCU community and to the academic mission of the University. No words can provide adequate tribute to either. In her short time with us, she impacted our department on both levels.”
Brown and Briggs continued, “She quickly established comfortable rapport with faculty and students, as well as commented on her open style over the course of her early months here. Even those who did not have the opportunity to interact with her one-on-one felt that we had a very genuine leader at the academic helm. Her leadership provided immense comfort among faculty all around campus as we face difficult times. Indeed, she launched important projects that have made their mark,” said Brown and Briggs.
Brown worked with Brenton as she led the university Collegial Review Committee through two busy days of deliberation regarding matters of tenure and promotion.
“The level of enthusiasm that she brought to the task was contagious and energizing; the epitome of leadership by example. It remains difficult to comprehend that at that time she was on the verge of being diagnosed with the aggressive cancer that took her away from us,” said Brown.
Briggs had the privilege of spending time with Brenton in their travels to a conference.
“The first thing I remember was how much energy she had and how comfortable she made all of those around her feel. She radiated such enthusiasm that just being around her was motivating,” said Briggs.
Briggs continued, “The conference we participated in was attended by administrators and faculty from other universities throughout the Southeast, and every person we came in contact with seemed to ‘light up’ when Angi interacted with them. It was apparent that we had made a great choice in selecting Angi as our provost.”
Briggs remarked on how much of an impact Brenton made in her too-short time at Western Carolina.
“It is amazing that in such a short time in our community she shaped so many lives in positive ways. Her work ethic was unsurpassed with grace, respect for others, and compassion. These remarkable characteristics of Dr. Angi Brenton will live on as a model for us all,” said Briggs.
WCU will hold a memorial celebration of her life in June.