TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Frederick S. Humphries, Sr., Ph.D., under whose leadership Florida A&M University (FAMU) was named College of the Year, and who was a lifelong cheerleader and advocate for his alma mater, died Thursday, June 24, 2021, at his home in Orlando, Florida. He was 85. He was a Fall ’54 initiate of the Beta Nu Chapter at Florida A&M.
Bro. Dr. Humphries, a renowned scholar, charismatic, visionary, and innovative administrator and admired public servant, left a legacy that touched countless students, corporate leaders, philanthropists, and peers across the nation. President Larry Robinson, Ph.D., who came to FAMU during Dr. Humphries’ tenure, has ordered that flags on the main campus and all satellite locations be flown at half-staff.
“We have been informed of the unfortunate passing of Dr. Frederick S. Humphries, the eighth president of Florida A&M University. The dark clouds have indeed gathered on the horizon. Dr. Humphries is one of FAMU’s favorite sons. He committed his life to the advancement of higher education, in particular within the HBCU community, and changed the trajectory of FAMU,” Robinson, FAMU’s 12th President, said in a statement. “We join the Humphries family, friends and Rattlers around the world in celebrating a life dedicated to service and one well lived.”
Bro. Dr. Humphries had a distinguished career in higher education as the eighth FAMU president and president of Tennessee State University (TSU), in Nashville.
Along with his almost three decades of leading two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), the Apalachicola, Fla., native served on countless corporate boards, and earned an impressive list of accolades and awards.
Bro. Dr. Humphries, whose 6-foot-7 frame, booming voice and easy smile, commanded attention whenever he entered a room, was a trained scientist. He graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from FAMU in 1957 before going on to complete a master’s and a doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh. He was the first African American to obtain a Ph.D. in his discipline from the University of Pittsburgh.
Dr. Humphries taught at the University of Minnesota before returning to his alma mater as a professor of chemistry in 1968. While at FAMU, he was also director of the 13-College Curriculum Program for HBCUs. He was named president of TSU in 1974.
Dr. Humphries shepherded TSU, an HBCU, through the merger with the predominantly white institution (PWI) University of Tennessee-Nashville campus. The legal case for integration marked the first time an HBCU had successfully merged and acquired a PWI in American history.
“The FAMU and Tennessee State communities has lost a great supporter of higher education,” said Kelvin Lawson, chairman of the FAMU Board of Trustees. “Our hearts are heavy, but our opportunities are brighter based on the life and doors opened by Dr. Humphries. University leadership will be connecting with the family to determine how to best honor his life and dedication to FAMU.”
Dr. Humphries left TSU to succeed Walter Smith as president of FAMU in 1985. The 16 years Dr. Humphries occupied the president’s office suite are described as FAMU’s golden years.
At FAMU, Dr. Humphries was the consummate cheerleader and innovator. He created the Life Gets Better Scholarship and the Graduate School Feeder Program (GSFP), which more than doubled enrollment while simultaneously raising academic standards. He increased the number of National Achievement Scholars, ranking first in the nation three times, surpassing Harvard University and Stanford University. He also helped boost FAMU to the nation’s No. 1 spot as a producer of African Americans with baccalaureate degrees, and to No. 3 in the nation as the baccalaureate institution of origin for African American doctoral degree recipients.
The crowning achievement of his tenure was FAMU’s selection as the first TIME Magazine/Princeton Review “College of the Year” in 1997.
Alumnus Eddie Jackson served under Humphries as vice president for University Relations.
“When he came to FAMU, Dr. Humphries had a chip on his shoulder because he was here when the University’s law school was closed,” Jackson said. “He did not like the way it was done. He was highly motivated to prove that, with the right leadership and programs, FAMU could be the best in the country, and he meant to prove it.”
Dr. Humphries was respected internationally for his keen insights on the education of minority students, particularly in math and the hard sciences, and his unique and visionary approaches to producing successful educational outcomes.