During a heartfelt farewell celebration for Eric J. Barron, Florida State’s 14th president, and his wife, Molly, a throng of students, faculty, staff and friends turned out on Westcott Plaza March 27 to show appreciation for their leadership and simply say “good-bye.”
As the Marching Chiefs took center stage to play the FSU Fight Song — under the direction of Molly Barron, no less — the lyrics took on new meaning.
“Fight, fight, fight for F-S-U … .”
As a podium full of special guests spoke in turn, it became obvious that there could be no words more fitting to describe the Barron’s commitment to Florida State.
Speaking as master of ceremonies for the celebration, Mark Zeigler, a research associate and instructor in the College of Communication and Information, praised the Barrons for the personal touch they gave to professional relationships.
“Your leadership was about getting one-on-one with people,” Zeigler said.
Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Garnett S. Stokes, who will become interim president after Barron’s final day on campus, praised Barron as an exceptional president and leader.
“You’re a good listener, a wise decision maker and a wonderful friend,” Stokes said.
She also praised the Barrons as a “good team.”
“They make it easy for us to look them in the eyes and say that the university that you love, loves you right back,” Stokes said.
Faculty Senate President Gary Tyson, who presented the Barrons with a plaque on behalf of the Faculty Senate, told Eric Barron how refreshing it was to have a fellow scientist as the university’s president.
“When you put the university in perspective, your analyses never obfuscated but always enlightened,” said Tyson, a professor of computer science and university trustee.
In reference to the many metrics that helped Florida State achieve “pre-eminent” status within the state of Florida, Tyson joked that there was one that Eric Barron had taken too far: the four-year graduation rate.
“That one wasn’t supposed to apply to university presidents,” he joked, referring to Barron’s four-year tenure as president.
Rosalia “Rosie” Contreras, who served as the 2013-2014 Student Body president during Barron’s final year as Florida State’s president, spoke on behalf of the student body in praising Barron for changing Florida State’s course to its present trajectory.
“Florida State is forever changed because of your leadership,” said Contreras, a senior from Melbourne, Fla., pursuing dual bachelor’s degrees in international affairs and women’s studies.
A major legacy of Barron’s presidency will be his commitment to making Florida State the nation’s most veteran-friendly campus. Student-veteran Abby Kinch recalled her introduction to the Barrons’ genuine concern for veterans.
“During a special military appreciation ceremony at one FSU football game, being on the football field during halftime with my fellow veterans and receiving an ovation from the crowd, I met a woman with a big smile and a man in a gold blazer,” Kinch said. “Molly gave me a big hug and introduced me to Eric. From that moment on, I found a new and much more involved path at Florida State University.”
As for Molly Barron and her special relationship with the Marching Chiefs, she took the “world renowned” band under her wing during the first football season of Eric’s presidency.
It was a hot September Saturday afternoon at Doak Campbell Stadium, and the Chiefs just had finished their halftime performance. As the third quarter began, Molly — who was simply carried away with their enthusiasm —now famously said, “Those kids need ice cream.” She made sure that enough Haagen Dazs was delivered from the President’s Box to the Chiefs’ stadium seats to satisfy every member. From then on, Molly made a point to stay close to her 400 new friends, even flying to Pasadena, Calif., on the Chiefs’ charter flight for the national championship football game Jan. 6.
University trustee and alumnus Mark Hillis (B.S. ’64, Finance) called it a “wonderful but sad day” because of the Barrons’ imminent departure.
“Eric has done such a great job over the past four years,” Hillis said. “We wish him well, and he will undoubtedly do a great job at Penn State.”
Hillis praised Barron’s work in helping Florida State achieve pre-eminent status in Florida, as well as his work students and the faculty, and strides he made with fundraising.
Students Tiebout McCrea and Samuel Wilburn, better known as this year’s Garnet and Gold Glitter Guys, praised Barron for being a friendly and accessible president.
“I think for someone as important as the president of the university to personally invest like he did had a huge impact on everyone,” said McCrea, 22, a senior from Gainesville, Fla., who is majoring in sports management and religion. McCrea is the gold glitter guy.
“In addition to looking up to him as the head of the university, students see him as somebody they can talk to,” said Wilburn, 21, a junior from Inverness, Fla., majoring in civil engineering. Wilburn is the garnet glitter guy. “Whenever he sends out emails, he just signs them ‘Eric.’ He is a personable guy and we all like him.”