Saying Goodbye: Community mourns Dr. Wells

Published 11:57 am Wednesday, December 27, 2023

She worked with the Daughters of the American Revolution, served as chief academic officer at Longwood, taught biology at the university and was a fixture throughout Farmville and Prince Edward County. And now, the community has to say goodbye to Dr. Carolyn Wells. 

Dr. Wells passed away on Monday, Dec. 18, leaving both university officials and community members upset. 

“For many of us, Carolyn has been a colleague, mentor, friend, and neighbor,” said Longwood Provost Dr. Larissa Smith. “Generations of Longwood professors have sought out her counsel and were always met with levelheaded, kind words of advice, often accompanied by her wry smile and a laugh. As I took on the role of provost in 2018, Carolyn advised me that “administrators are ministers to those they serve.” She lived those words herself and embodied the best of the Longwood spirit. She will be deeply missed by all of us who knew her.” 

LOOKING BACK ON DR. WELLS’ LIFE

After earning her Ph.D. in biology from Emory University, Dr. Wells was a postdoctoral fellow at Oak Ridge National Laboratory before taking a job as an assistant professor of natural sciences at Longwood in 1960. Her forty-year career was marked by a series of groundbreaking achievements. In 1975, she was the first woman appointed to serve as vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College. In that role, she helped facilitate the transition to co-education in 1976, and, in 1980, she hired Dr. Edna Allen Bledsoe Dean, the first Black professor to be awarded tenure at Longwood. In collaboration with art professor Barbara Bishop, Dr. Wells was also instrumental in founding the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts (LCVA). 

Upon returning to the faculty in the early 1980s, Dr. Wells developed her research interest in ornithology and engaged undergraduate students in fieldwork. She served on the Longwood College Council, the predecessor to today’s Faculty Senate, and was instrumental in revising and writing the Faculty Policies and Procedures Manual (FPPM) in 1992-1993, which is the basis for today’s FPPM. She chaired the Department of Natural Sciences for most of the 1990s, proving herself a servant leader until the end of her career. In 1999, a year before her retirement, she was named Board of Visitors Distinguished Professor, the highest honor the Board bestows upon a faculty member.

In retirement, Carolyn devoted her time to many arts, cultural, and non-profit organizations, including the LCVA, the Southside SPCA, and the Judith Randolph Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Alongside Dr. Barbara Smith, Carolyn was a dedicated member of the Farmville Presbyterian Church. Carolyn and Barbara were also fixtures at Longwood events – whether it was a basketball game, a scholarship dinner, or the LCVA gala. In 2021, the Board of Visitors named the first-floor atrium in Allen Hall in her honor.