STARKVILLE — Mississippi State University’s 15th president, Donald W. Zacharias, has died of complications from multiple sclerosis, the university said yesterday. He was 77.
He died late Saturday night, said daughter-in-law Sarah Zacharias of Boulder, Colo.
Zacharias was president from 1985-97. Only founding president Stephen D. Lee served longer, the university said in a news release.
“Donald Zacharias was a transformative figure at Mississippi State University,” university president Mark E. Keenum said. “He really helped bring MSU into the modern era, and he did so by developing a broad vision for the leadership that Mississippi needed from a land grant university. At our last visit during the Christmas holidays, Dr. Zacharias was still providing valuable, thoughtful counsel to me and still had the welfare of MSU students at the top of his mind.”
Enrollment, private contributions, research and athletic achievement all grew significantly under Zacharias, and MSU became home to one of a handful of Engineering Research Centers funded by the National Science Foundation, the university said. MSU became nationally known for use of technology in the classroom and created the state’s first site on the Internet, according to the news release.
Enrollment rose to Mississippi’s highest, at almost 16,000. African-American enrollment more than doubled to 2,200 — 15 percent of the student body and the highest percentage among SEC schools.
Zacharias was born in Salem, Ind., and taught at Indiana University and the University of Texas, where he moved into administration. He was Western Kentucky University’s president before coming to Mississippi State.
He is survived by his wife, Tommie Kline Zacharias of Starkville, their three adult children and three grandchildren, all of Boulder, Colo., and by a sister in Yucaipa, Calif.
When he resigned in 1997, Zacharias said: “I saw things in Mississippi State University that others might not have seen. I felt that I had made the right decision to be at this university because I liked both what it stood for and its overall character. I liked its mission, and I liked the students and alumni. I saw the potential.”
Funeral arrangements were incomplete. Zacharias’ family will release details through Mississippi State, but a public memorial service is tentatively planned on campus on Thursday, the university said.