Press release from Western Carolina University:
David Orr Belcher, chancellor of Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina, died on Sunday, June 17, at the age of 60. A native of Barnwell, South Carolina, Belcher was predeceased by his parents, Jean Orr Belcher and Posey Belcher Jr.
A memorial service will be held beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 23, in WCU’s Fine and Performing Arts Center.
He was a 1975 graduate and valedictorian of Barnwell High School and earned his bachelor’s degree from Furman University in 1979, master’s degree from the University of Michigan in 1981 and doctorate from the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester in 1989, all in piano performance. He studied in Vienna, Austria, for two years, funded in part by a Rotary Foundation Graduate Fellowship.
Since 2011, Belcher served as chancellor of WCU. During his tenure, he was widely recognized for energizing his university community to work with regional leaders to serve the needs of Western North Carolina, a combined effort that resulted in WCU reaching all-time highs in student achievement, enrollment, retention and graduation rates, in student and alumni engagement and in philanthropic giving.
His legacy at WCU includes support and implementation of two pivotal statewide initiatives that are expected to greatly enhance public higher education in WNC – the NC Promise tuition program that dramatically lowers student college costs, and his efforts toward the successful passage of the Connect NC Bond, which included $110 million in funding for WCU’s Apodaca Science Building, a state-of-the-art facility that will prepare students for 21st-century professions in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
In addition, his support for the consolidation of WCU economic growth-oriented graduate and undergraduate programs at a new instructional site in Asheville represented an unprecedented strategic investment in economic development opportunities for the WNC region.
Prior to his appointment at WCU, Belcher served at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock from 2003 until 2011 as provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, and at Missouri State University from 1988 until 2003, first as coordinator of keyboard studies in the Music Department (1989-1992), then as assistant dean (1993) and dean (1994-2003) of the College of Arts and Letters.
Known as a champion of public service, Belcher served on key boards of directors, including the My Future NC Commission on state educational attainment, the NCAA Division 1 board on intercollegiate athletics, the North Carolina Arboretum and the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute in Arkansas. He also was the founder and five-year director of the statewide Missouri Fine Arts Academy.
Belcher was regarded as a passionate and committed believer in the power of education. His message – “We are in the business of changing lives” – became both an inspiration and a challenge to those sharing his commitment. He enjoyed travel to experience new cultures and was an avid gardener. Many remember his infectious laugh, quick wit and energetic leadership style.
Surviving are his wife of 14 years, Susan Brummell Belcher; brother Philip Burgess Belcher and wife Kelly of Asheville, North Carolina; sister Elizabeth Belcher Mixon and husband Ben of Rock Hill, South Carolina; and sister Miriam Belcher Ponder and husband Dean of Huntersville, North Carolina. He also is survived by his aunt, Martha White of Allendale, South Carolina, and nephews and nieces Owen Belcher and wife Olga Shupyatskaya, Kera Belcher, Sarah Mixon, Eleanor Mixon and Noah Ponder.
Susan Belcher extends her thanks to family, friends and colleagues for their caring support, as well as the medical teams of Duke University Medical Center and Cancer Care of WNC.
In lieu of flowers, the Belchers request that memorials be directed to the foundation endowments of Western Carolina University, Furman University, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Missouri State University.