UVI Remembers Founding President, Lawrence Wanlass

Lawrence C. Wanlass (Photo submitted by UVI)
Lawrence C. Wanlass (Photo submitted by UVI)

An educator and author who helped the College of the Virgin Islands get its start in 1962 is being remembered by those who worked alongside him and those who benefitted from his guidance. UVI President Emeritus Lawrence C. Wanlass died Dec. 18 in California.

In a statement issued by the University of the Virgin Islands Friday, Wanlass was remembered as a pioneer in higher education in the territory.

CVI was established on March 16, 1962, by the Fourth Legislature in Act 852, after Gov. Ralph M. Paiewonsky convened a special commission to examine feasibility. Wanlass moved his family from California to begin an 18-year effort as CVI president.

When CVI began, it offered two-year transfer programs in seven subjects and occupational programs in business and construction technology. Over the years, college administrators introduced four-year degree programs, achieved a five-year accreditation from the Middle States Association and established CVI as land-bank institution.

Upon his retirement in 1980, the then-University of the Virgin Islands conferred the title of president emeritus on Wanlass. He was succeeded by Arthur Richards, who began his term as UVI president in 1981.

The current UVI President, David Hall, said Wanlass stayed in touch with developments at the school, shared his concerns and encouragement.

“President Wanlass was such an important anchor for this university,” Hall said in Friday’s statement. “He was always proud of what this special institution was able to accomplish. Though I was never able to meet him, I still feel his loss.”

In addition to his career as a founding college president, Wanlass authored a book on political science, a field he studied as a student at the University of California at Berkeley. “Gettell’s History of Political Thought” was published in 1953. The book was written three years after Wanslass graduated from Berkeley. It was described as a compendium of ideas about government.

In one review of the book, Wanlass was quoted as saying, “In order to understand the past, one must know not only what men did, but also what they believed and what they hoped for.”

He spent a few years teaching at Mount Holyoke College, then served as an assistant to the president of Sacramento State College before packing up and moving his family to St. Thomas in 1962.