By Caitlyn Ralph and Giulia Heyward
From 2001 to 2014, Dr. Elzie McCord served as the Professor of Biology at the New College of Florida. On Oct. 8 in College Hall, faculty and students alike came to celebrate McCord due to his recent decision to retire. While such an event would seem to elicit feelings of nostalgia and melancholy feel towards saying goodbye to such a memorable presence on campus, the event was instead characterized by shouts of laughter in the middle of speeches and a chorus of clapping that lasted several minutes after everyone had spoken. As third-year student, Juan Gonzalez, put it: “He’s like a really cool uncle.”
McCord worked as a professor in the natural sciences department. He taught courses such as Introduction to Entomology, Insect Plant Interactions and General Toxicology. McCord also worked closely with many students on campus specifically, sponsoring Independent Study Projects (ISP), supervising tutorials, and working closely with students on their theses.
After the guests had the chance to mingle, Dr. Katherine Walstrom, the Division Chair of Natural Sciences, took the podium to begin the evening’s speeches dedicated to McCord. First, Dr. Sandra Gilchrist, Professor of Biology, who also worked with McCord on a summer science program, spoke on their longtime friendship.
“It is bittersweet,” Gilchrist said. “I was here when Elzie was hired, and it’s sad to see him moving on to this part of his career. We hope that he will stay in contact with New College.”
After Gilchrist, Dr. Alfred Beulig, Professor of Biology, lightened the mood in the room with some good-hearted humor.
“I didn’t expect to be in the position where I’m saying things about Elzie’s retirement, I expected him to say things about my retirement,” Beulig said. He continued with more serious remarks, “He is still in our hearts, and he will be around for a long time.”
Associate Professor of Music, Dr. Maribeth Clark, honored McCord with a poem and some incredibly sincere comments.
“You have been a great friend, you have been a wonderful colleague, you have been a mentor to so many I have seen you with,” Clark said afterwards. “Thank you for everything you have shared with this campus, for everything you have shared with me.”
Dr. Amy Clore, Associate Professor of Biology, compared McCord’s relationship with students to magic. “What I want to highlight is Dr. McCord’s, Elzie’s, relationship with students. You can’t even really describe it. And I would like to be able emulate it. It’s like this magical thing, so with students, it’s not just like ‘Oh, he takes time with me and he talked to me’ and it’s […] something more, and they just really can relate to you and they know that you value and respect them for who they are as individuals and it’s really quite something.”
“I am moved by the event,” said Associate Professor of Biology Sarah Hernandez who mentioned her and McCord’s friendship.
While the atmosphere was kept light and funny at the event, there was a tone of seriousness that was maintained in acknowledging McCord’s strength and impact he had had on the community.
“He was the first black student [at the University of Florida] in their graduate program of Entomology. He showed up to there and he would have nooses on his desk, he would have professors who would not talk to him, he would have students who would not talk to him, so he had to deal with all that,” said close friend Daniel Silpa whose wife was a student of McCord’s.
McCord would later work on completing several publications and would be the recipient of several outstanding awards such as the NAACP Freedom Award for Community Service in 2006 and LaMere Foundation Grant in 2011.
“He was a great representative of New College around the town,” former colleague and Professor of Biochemistry Katherine Walstrom said. “I often ran into people who, at some point, had seen him or knew him […] and one thing that I’ll really miss about Elzie is, during any meeting where there was foolishness going on, he could cut through the foolishness with an insightful question or comment.”
Despite his retirement, several individuals cited that McCord will still maintain a presence on campus, rather it be working on research or working with students. Along with a plaque, McCord was also granted permanent free parking on campus.
“I am near speechless, and that’s kind of rare for me,” McCord said, who likened himself to a snowbird in that he plans to still remain in Sarasota for the winters.
“Give me call and I can be easily located,” McCord concluded.