Donald W. Zacharias, the president emeritus of Mississippi State University who served from 1985-1997, died Sunday [March 3] at the age of 77 of complications from multiple sclerosis after an extended illness.
Second in tenure only to Stephen D. Lee, the founding president of the state’s land-grant institution, Zacharias brought Mississippi State to a new level of prominence during his 12 and one-half years of service.
Enrollment, private contributions, research and athletic achievement all grew significantly as part of Zacharias’ legacy; one unmatched in the history of the university and one that the current MSU leader says will definitely stand the test of time.
MSU President Mark E. Keenum said: “Dr. Donald Zacharias was a transformative figure at Mississippi State University. 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. I counted him as a friend, a mentor, and an inspiration. Don Zacharias was a man of great courage and dignity – and he was one of the most influential leaders in the history of Mississippi higher education.”
Zacharias became a visionary for higher education in Mississippi when he was named MSU’s 15th president in 1985 after coming to the Starkville campus from the presidency of Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Ky. During his tenure, Zacharias raised MSU’s visibility and reputation nationally, enrollment climbed to the largest in the state 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.