Ira Tolbert, former assistant provost, diesTweet
Ira Tolbert, 72, former assistant provost for recruitment and retention, died at Lourdes Hospital on Sept. 2. He joined the University in 1989, retired in 2000, but returned as an adjunct lecturer in 2002 and again in 2005.
His impact was far-reaching, according to those who worked closely with him, and the students – now alumni – he touched. Mary Ann Swain, former provost, said Tolbert helped many students succeed.
“Ira played an important role in the lives of many young men and women, often enabling them to exceed their expectations for themselves,” she said. “He was a caring man and I am very happy to have had the chance to work with him.”
One former student in particular credits Tolbert with being the “redeeming, friendly face in the campus crowd” when he was new to Binghamton University. David Garcia ’91, said he was fortunate to find “one of the kindest smiles from a man whose office may have been high up in the University’s administration building, but whose love for students and his mission at the University went significantly beyond some of his other life passions: popcorn, champagne and bowties.”
Tolbert had the ability to make every student feel special, Garcia said, but “he also wanted the students, particularly students of color, to feel confident that they had the ability to do well not only at Binghamton University but also at other universities ... I have no doubt that because of Ira many students of color went on to pursue postgraduate degrees at some of the finest institutions in the nation.”
Garcia was one of those students, continuing on for his doctorate at Vanderbilt University with Tolbert’s help. After a car accident in 1996 paralyzed Garcia and interrupted his studies, Tolbert became part of his extended family and “helped to reaffirm the confidence that despite the challenges brought about by my physical limitation, I still had the mind necessary to complete the PhD.” Garcia successfully defended his dissertation via satellite from Binghamton University, with Tolbert in the audience supporting him.
Vanessa Young, senior academic counselor for EOP, often referred students to Tolbert. “We shared a great interest in encouraging students to attend graduate school,” she said. “As an advisor, I often referred students to Ira to discuss the graduate school application process. My co-workers also did the same because we had great confidence in him. We knew that he would provide the best support and guidance.
”Ira knew the importance of education and wanted to see students succeed on the graduate level,” she said. “He had a wonderful network of colleagues throughout the country and with the information gained from each one, he was able to inform students about opportunities available to students. When he spoke with students he was not only able to provide information about particular master’s and doctoral programs, but also about financial assistance.”
Young added that many students now have law degrees or their doctorate and have personally told her that they owe their success to Ira Tolbert. Similar comments were made by Leo Wilton, now associate professor of human development, but a former student who calls Tolbert “instrumental” in his and the lives of many other students of color. “He was the person a lot of African American students would see,” said Wilton. “He would come to student meetings and students would visit him in his office. When I posted on Facebook that Ira had passed, so many alums wrote in.
“He was a blessing and a gem and I think he was a brilliant soldier in the fight for educational equality,” said Wilton, who noted that Tolbert was also affectionately known by many as “Papa Ira”.
“He was a very loving man and a father to a lot of the students,” Wilton said. “He really took on that role and was very dear that way. He was very patient and he wouldn’t rush you and he would talk to you for hours. He invested a lot of time with the students.”
Tolbert is survived by his wife, Jean; daughter, Karen; brothers, Sim and Darrell; sister, Juanita; and several nieces, nephews, cousins and in-laws. Donations can be made to the Apalachin Fire District Emergency Squad, 230 Pennsylvania Avenue, Apalachin, N.Y. 13732.