Gloria Walton Singletary, wife of the late Otis A. Singletary Jr., eighth president of the University of Kentucky, died Friday after a brief illness. She was 88.
"I've never known a more gracious, more generous person than Gloria Singletary," retired UK history professor Charles Roland said. He had known the Singletarys since 1948.
"You know, her nickname was Glo, short for Gloria. And I can't imagine a more appropriate one," Roland added. "She really cast a glow wherever she went. ... I would consider Gloria the quintessential Southern lady."
In a statement released Friday, UK President Eli Capilouto and his wife, Mary Lynne, said they had a "deeply profound appreciation" for the Singletarys.
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"With patience, intellect and resolve — and always a sense of charm and grace — the two of them, together, led UK through a period of tremendous growth and progress," Capilouto said. "In many ways, they helped create and define the University of Kentucky as a modern, public research university — one committed to excellence in education, research and service."
Former UK spokesman Bernie Vonderheide, who was at the university for 23 years, said he always thought of Mrs. Singletary "as the grand first lady of the university."
"She was extremely personable. Always interested in what you were interested in," Vonderheide said.
"She was very skillful in her ways of communicating with people and understanding their interests," said Peter Bosomworth, retired chancellor of the UK Medical School. "She didn't try to dominate people."
Born in Lanett, Ala., Gloria Walton was a Methodist minister's daughter and grew up on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. She attended Perkinston Junior College in Mississippi, where she met her future husband in 1940.
She and Otis Singletary were married on D-Day, June 6, 1944, in Moss Point, Miss., in her father's church. They both served in the Navy during World War II, with Mrs. Singletary serving as a pharmacist's mate.
After the war, they both earned degrees in history at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss. She graduated from Millsaps in 1948.
From then on, moving became a way of life for the Singletarys. They lived in Bayonne, N.J.; Baton Rouge, La.; Austin, Texas; and Greensboro, N.C.
The Singletarys came to Lexington in 1969, during one of the most turbulent periods in U.S. history.
Young people throughout the nation were protesting the U.S. position in Vietnam. Months after Otis Singletary became UK president, members of the National Guard, carrying rifles with bayonets, were called to the Lexington campus to quell student unrest that culminated in the burning of the ROTC building and sit-ins on the front lawn of Lexington Theological Seminary.
Although she could be as diplomatic as her husband, Mrs. Singletary said in a 1987 interview with the Herald-Leader that she became very angry when her family — especially her husband — was criticized.
"I think it's unfair to judge people when you don't know what they are doing," Mrs. Singletary said. "I know how many hours he spends working for the university. That's the maddest I get about anything."
Mrs. Singletary was an active supporter for all things UK, too, whether it was delivering chicken-salad sandwiches to students camped out in the cold, waiting for basketball tickets, or delivering mail to patients at what is now called University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital.
Otis Singletary stepped down as UK's president on June 30, 1987, and became president emeritus. His tenure as president was the third-longest in UK history. He died in 2003 after a battle with cancer.
Mrs. Singletary contributed her time to numerous organizations and causes, but her greatest passion and commitment was for The Living Arts and Science Center, which provides all kinds of opportunities and classes for children and adults to participate in the arts and sciences.
The Gloria W. Singletary Gallery, located in the center, was created in recognition of her many contributions — from fund-raising to painting walls to raking leaves.
Heather Lyons, executive director of The Living Arts and Science Center, said several people have told her about the time that Mrs. Singletary climbed onto the roof of the center for some maintenance project.
"You have to crawl up through a little trap door to get up there," Lyons said. "It's hard. You have to climb straight up on a ladder on the wall and push up the trap door. And as board members came driving up to the center, they saw someone up on the roof and then did a second take and realized that it was Gloria. They started shouting at her to 'Come down from there!' And she was shouting back them, 'No, I've got to take care of this roof!'
"She never asked anybody to do anything that she wasn't willing to do first herself," Lyons said. "She would clean out closets. She would mop the floor. She mowed the yard. She never thought twice about doing whatever needed to get done."
Mrs. Singletary is survived by two daughters, Bonnie Singletary Robertson and Kendall Singletary Barret; one son, Robert Scot Singletary; four grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Monday at Milward Funeral Directors-Broadway.
A private graveside service will be 11 a.m. Tuesday at The Lexington Cemetery.
Contributions in her memory are suggested to The Lexington Living Arts and Science Center.