Angela Laird Brenton, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Western Carolina University since Aug. 1, passed away Wednesday, May 8, after a three-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
“Our hearts are broken,” said WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher. “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.”
A resident of Dillsboro, Brenton came to WCU from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, where she had served as dean of the College of Professional Studies since 2001. Belcher and Brenton had worked together previously 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.
Brenton guided WCU through a process of program prioritization, a comprehensive examination of the university’s academic programs in order to assess their quality and productivity and to help determine allocation of resources. She spearheaded the creation of the university’s new Leadership Academy to nurture faculty and staff leaders; the academy will begin in the fall with its first class of participants.
Brenton also helped establish this spring’s inaugural WCU Discovery Forum, part of an initiative launched by the N.C. State University-based Institute for Emerging Issues, in which students share innovative ideas for making their communities better places to live. Among her top priorities was 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.
During her career in higher education, Brenton served as dean of the Graduate School and associate provost for research and service at Abilene Christian University, head of the department of communication and mass media at Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State), and director of UALR’s Baum Decision Support Center.
She was an inaugural faculty member in the Clinton School of Public Service and also taught at Pepperdine University, the University of Kansas, Oklahoma Christian College and the University of Oklahoma.
She earned a doctorate in communication studies from the University of Kansas, master’s degree in communication from the University of Oklahoma and bachelor’s degrees in mass communication and speech communication from Oklahoma Christian College. She received a management and leadership in higher education certificate from the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University.
Named a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International in 2004, she received numerous awards during her career, including the Outstanding Community Service Award in 2003 from the Metroplan regional planning group in Little Rock, the Faculty Excellence Award in Public Service in 1991 from the UALR College of Professional and Public Affairs, and the Harold McDaniel Outstanding Member Award in 1991 from the Arkansas chapter of the American Society for Training and Development.
Brenton was instrumental in establishing the Institute on Race and Ethnicity at UALR. She wrote extensively on the topics of managerial communication, conflict management, communication theory and higher education administration, and co-authored the textbook “Organizational Culture in Action.” She was a member of the National Communication Association, Association for Conflict Resolution, Alpha Phi international women’s fraternity and the International Association of Facilitators.
Brenton was born in Duncan, Okla., on Jan. 3, 1953. She was preceded in death by her father, Joe Laird, and younger brother, David. She is survived by her husband, W. Keith Brenton, of the home; her mother, Harriette Laird, of the home; son Matt S. Brenton, of Little Rock; and daughter Laura Leigh Brenton, of the home.
Funeral services will be held Saturday, May 11, at 1 p.m. at Pleasant Valley Church of Christ in Little Rock, Ark., with burial to follow at Riverwood Memorial Gardens in Maumelle, Ark. WCU will hold a memorial celebration of her life in June. On Brenton’s Caring Bridge webpage, Brenton’s husband shared that the family delights in the beauty of flowers but also suggests for those who wish to make a lasting tribute to consider a donation of any size to a scholarship fund at any of the universities where Brenton has served; to Rotary International, of which Brenton was a member honored as a Paul Harris Fellow; or to Childplace, the organization through which they adopted their two children.