Virginia Lester, former Mary Baldwin president, dies at 85

Virginia Lester, former president of Mary Baldwin College (1976–1985), passed away on Nov. 10, in Alexandria. She was 85.leaders_lester_76-85

Under Lester’s leadership, Mary Baldwin expanded enrollment, launched the Adult Degree Program, developed the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted, and forged an alliance with Doshisha Women’s College in Japan. Also during her tenure, Mary Baldwin acquired the grounds of the former Staunton Military Academy, significantly increasing the size of campus and building capacity for the future.

“We honor and thank Dr. Lester for her dedication to our university as an innovative and entrepreneurial leader,” said President Pamela Fox. “She set the course of innovation for the past 50 years and boldly paved the way for the acquisition of the former Staunton Military Academy campus. I was so delighted that Ginny was able to attend the dedication ceremony of the Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences in April 2015. We talked about her pride in the continued evolution of Mary Baldwin.”

The daughter of Emily Downes Laudano and Edmund Francis Laundano, Lester grew up in Philadelphia. She especially enjoyed summers in Ocean City, NJ, where she sailed at the yacht club and waitressed at the Chatterbox. She graduated from Penn State University, where she was a member of Alpha Chi Omega, and earned a master’s degree at Temple University and a PhD at the Union Graduate School. She married and moved to Saratoga Springs, NY, where she worked for her mentor, Joseph Palamountain, at Skidmore College. She also helped create Empire State College’s innovative adult degree program before becoming President of Mary Baldwin.

“Dr. Lester had a great smile, and a no-nonsense manner,” said Melissa Ferrell ’71. “She was not in a popularity contest; she had the vital job of keeping us afloat through the roughest financial times. She accomplished her goal, and I am truly grateful. I hope she was well enough to see the college flourish under her successors.”

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After Mary Baldwin, she earned her law degree from Stanford University, became interim president at Friends World College (FWC) during the college’s pivotal time, helping the board merge FWC’s international programs with Long Island University. She was a presidential search consultant for the Association of Governing Boards. Lester also worked in the general counsel’s office of AARP and taught leadership and legal issues to PhD students at George Washington University.

Lester said of herself: “I accepted each opportunity as a gift of which to make the most.” Personally, she enjoyed most any adventure, especially traveling and skiing. She loved and will be missed by her brother Edmund S Laudano (Kathleen) of Pittsburgh, daughters Pamela Lester Golde (Robert) of Ridgefield Conn., Valerie Lester (Geoffrey) of Oak Park, Ill., and grandsons Ross D. Golde (Jillian) of Jericho, Vt., and Clayton W. Golde of Washington, D.C.

A memorial service is planned at 2 p.m. Nov. 19 at Alexandria Friends Meeting, 8990 Woodlawn Rd, Alexandria. The family asks that donations be made to the Meeting in lieu of flowers.