Remembering Dr. Cynthia H. Tyson, Mary Baldwin’s Eighth President

The MBU community came together to remember beloved president Cynthia Tyson. Read on for select remembrances shared via email, social media, and at her memorial service.

Dr. Cynthia H. Tyson in academic regalia

Susan Smith Alsdorf ’97, via Facebook

Dr. Tyson was the reason why I chose Mary Baldwin. She personally met with me as a prospective student and convinced me that Mary Baldwin would be the best fit for me. She was not wrong. She was a pillar of strength and champion of education for women. “We are not a girls school without men, we are a women’s college without boys.” I am grateful for the opportunity to learn under her. God bless you, Dr. Tyson 💔

Kristen Barner ‘90 

Prayers for comfort and peace for Dr. Tyson’s family. It is something odd to think of a world without her extraordinary and powerful presence. I admired and adored her. Thank you, to the family, for sharing Dr. Tyson with so many of us. We have generations of strong women, guided into our best selves, from Dr. Tyson’s influence.

Ralph Alan Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Shakespeare and Performance and English

Cynthia Tyson is one of the most influential — and most entertaining — people in the life of Mary Baldwin and Staunton … and in my own. She threw the full weight of Mary Baldwin behind the American Shakespeare Center’s campaign to build the Blackfriars Playhouse, and raised $100,000 in donations from the faculty. She also persuaded her own major donors, Gordon and Mary Beth Smith, to guarantee the loan that made possible the completion of that project. When I brought her the outrageous idea that Mary Baldwin, then a women’s college in a small city in western Virginia, should create a co-educational MFA program in Shakespeare and Performance, she convinced the faculty such a program could work and brought me as a professor to the college.

She had a remarkable and mischievous sense of humor. She and then Dean Jim Lott presided over the rarest of academic happenings: a monthly faculty meeting with so much wit and goodwill that all of us looked forward to it. In 2013 the American Shakespeare Center awarded her our Robin Goodfellow Award; she stood by me as I began to read my carefully composed speech in her honor, and I wasn’t a sentence into before it she grabbed my arm and said, “Nice, Ralph, but let’s talk about you.” Everyone laughed, and I tried to start over, but she grabbed my arm again and interrupted: “Isn’t this a wonderful theatre?” she asked the guests. Again, huge laughter, as she basically and endearingly stole the show every time I started to say something. I never was able to finish that speech, but because of her it was the most memorable I ever made.

The ASC likes to call Staunton “Shakespeare’s American Home”: No one helped more in making it so than Cynthia Tyson.

Andrea Cornett-Scott, Chief Diversity Officer

During Dr. Cynthia Tyson’s presidency careful attention was given to the special needs of underrepresented students. Through her leadership the Office of African American and Multicultural Affairs was launched transforming the cultural identity of the Mary Baldwin community. 

Due to inclement weather, our plane to North Carolina for the memorial service was cancelled; however, we were with you in spirit. Dr. Tyson was such an inspiring muse in my life. Her kindness to me and my family will be forever cherished.

Buffy DeBreaux-Watts ’93

Peace and comfort to the family of Dr. Cynthia Tyson. She taught so much to the young women of Mary Baldwin in how she presented herself daily, her eloquent speech, roundtable luncheons and discussion with students, and commitment to personal fitness is engrained in my memory. 

Amy Diduch, Vice President/Dean, Gold College of Arts and Sciences

Dr. Tyson had a talent for fostering community at Mary Baldwin. I fondly remember the weekly afternoon teas held in the upper back gallery of the administration building and as I watch the service online this morning, I’m raising my tea cup in her honor.

Ruth Doumlele

I remember Dr. Tyson fondly from my days and graduation in the Adult Degree Program. Wonderful opportunity to gather all of my various credits into one program.

Jacqui Elliott  93

Sending heartfelt sympathy to all who loved Dr. Tyson. To me, she crafted a college for women that inspired us all to be the best version of ourselves. She will be in my heart forever.

Melissa Wimbish Ferrell ‘71

I recall Dr. Tyson proudly and fondly; she was the first person I saw wear the “floppy” cap in procession — her dark green and black velvet were lovely. She was a strong leader and a good person. I am delighted I met her on several occasions.

Tierra Hucke ‘05

Dr. Tyson was such an inspiration to all of us. Just a wonderful person.

Janaan Hashim ‘89

I was traveling abroad when I received word of Pres. Tyson’s passing, which gave me pause to think and reflect.  This amazing woman who touched the lives of so many – but in particular the students of MBC – taught us much about not only living with humility and grace, but with humor and leadership.  She had a lasting impact on who I was to become since graduating in 1989 (so young and naive!), and I am ever grateful that I was blessed with having her as one of my role models.  May she rest in peace and tranquility.

Pat Hunt, Chaplain Emerita

Cynthia Tyson knew how to lead without resorting to intimidation or retribution. The people at Mary Baldwin (faculty, employees and students) did not fear falling out of favor or having to pay later on for speaking their minds. She didn’t employ tactics of fear to garner respect. We had true freedom of speech. I said to her once, “There are surely people you like better than others and even people you don’t like at all. How do you handle that?” She said, “Oh, I just think of them as characters in Canterbury Tales.” I had to laugh. Good advice and an insight into the source of her patience with us. I disagreed with her on many occasions and told her so. She never allowed it to damage our relationship even if she very much disagreed.

Sara James ’69, Professor Emerita of Art History

She was a remarkable woman, who, at the same time was a warm, compassionate person with a delightful sense of humor. I treasured her leadership and her friendship.

I came into the faculty in 1991 as an assistant professor of art history. The following year, recognizing the unique opportunity for my 11-year-old son, I made the tough decision to allow him to go to a boy choir boarding school in Princeton, NJ. I received a handwritten note from Dr. Tyson congratulating my son and saying that she knew how agonizing it was to send him away and be separated from him, because she’d sent her son to boarding school at the same age. I was so touched that she would write, especially to a junior faculty member. Sometimes your presidents don’t know who you are. She knew all of us.

I was with her the night her mother died in Staunton following the annual Christmas party, from when she called for help — I happened to be leaving the party — until the rescue squad came.

After her retirement, during several visits to my daughter’s home near Charlotte, I had lunch with Cynthia in Charlotte. We had such great conversations! The last time I saw her was before COVID. She was one of the native Brits to whom I dedicated my book, Art in England. I took her a copy. I’m saddened by her death, but inspired by her leadership and friendship.

Emily Jay ’02, via Facebook

She was a legend and a leader. And so very beloved. She was what those of us who benefitted directly from our time there during her tenure equate our fond memories of the institution with perhaps the most. She was our Mary Baldwin.

Emily Allen Jiancristoforo ‘02 

Many prayers for Dr. Tyson’s family; she was a remarkable woman that enriched my life and certainly my time at Mary Baldwin. For those of us that were her students, she was OUR Mary Baldwin.

Windsor Johnson ’02, via Facebook

I will never forget her words at freshmen orientation- “we work hard and we play hard.” Loved listening to her speak and knew she cared so much about MBC.

Lisa Danielle Jones ’96, via Facebook

A true leader with endless energy and wisdom. “Work hard, play hard!” Her legacy is a blessing to the Mary Baldwin community.

Kelly Reese Kaufman ‘01 

Today I give thanks for the life and legacy of Dr. Tyson. I have struggled to find just the right words to share how she made an impact on my life and education. To her family, thank you for sharing her with us, the many squirrels who loved her. You are in my prayers as you grieve her death and celebrate her life.

Lindsey Lieberman ‘04 

Dr. Tyson was entirely unparalleled. She treated us as equals. She showed us what a true leader looks like. She encouraged us to be our best possible selves. She was charismatic, engaging, and kind. There’s a whole generation of squirrels who find it impossible to separate Mary-Baldwin-the-school from Dr. Tyson because for us, she was *our* Mary Julia Baldwin. May her memory be a blessing.

Gabby McCree ‘83, Chair, MBU Board of Trustees  

On behalf of the Board of Trustees at Mary Baldwin University we honor Dr. Tyson and her amazing and lasting legacy. Thank you for streaming the service for all of us.

Susie Kierson Miller ‘91 

My prayers to your family. I was fortunate to be a student and to work and travel with Dr. Tyson. Her energy, dedication, and love for Mary Baldwin was always present. She taught us all the meaning of “at Mary Baldwin we work hard and we play hard.” It was a wonderful motto for life that I still try to embrace each day. Her legacy is still present and will be so forever.

Kara Neumann ‘04

Dr. Tyson made an impact on me and the Mary Baldwin community in ways that can’t even be described. She was a constant presence around the college and was never too busy to say hello. She was an amazing example of strong female leadership and for that, I will forever be grateful. We were all heartbroken when she left Mary Baldwin and the college will never be the same without her. 

Roderic Owen, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy

Cynthia arrived at Mary Baldwin with a mission to heal a struggling and divided college community, after 18 years she left a college with a program for gifted girls, new graduate programs, a revitalized liberal arts program, the Spencer Center in support of community service and study abroad, and a strong and effective board, and so much more. Linda joins me in giving thanks for her life, character, and exceptional leadership.

Melissa Patrick ’78

She was absolutely wonderful and was such a powerful and impactful leader for Mary Baldwin College. Although she was president after I had graduated (class of ’78), she was truly “my president” as she was for all alumnae. My father was on the faculty and absolutely adored her. She reciprocated by treating the faculty with great respect and showing she valued them, just as she treated the students as valued individuals. We will miss her, dearly!

Linda Rita Perez ‘76

Thank you to the family members of Dr. Tyson who so lovingly shared with not only Mary Baldwin College, but with so many others, this remarkable woman, educator, inspirational person, fundraiser, and committed president, a first for Mary Baldwin College and now Mary Baldwin University. My prayers are with you! Si Yu’os ma’ase.

Erin Phillippi  ‘05 

Dr. Tyson truly made everyone feel welcome — faculty, staff, students, and community members. Her gracious welcome set my parents at ease when I arrived at MBC, and her continued guidance enriched my college experience.

Edward A. Scott, Associate Professor Emeritus of Philosophy

President Tyson’s grasp of intimacies concerning everyone associated with Mary Baldwin College boggled us all. She knew our spouses and our children by name, our origins of town, country and kin. It always moved me to hear her call my name with affection, so much so that I could never bring myself to call her Cynthia. I called her President Tyson from the beginning until the very end and thus shall she ever remain, so fondly remembered beyond the veil.

Caroline Wright ‘98 

One of a kind who was loved by so many of us at MBC. With great admiration and love the Class of 1998.

Robin Wilson von Seldeneck  ‘92

Dr. Tyson shaped a generation of women leaders. I am blessed to have known her. 

Sarah M. P. Vostal91

Dr. Tyson was a wonderful leader and person who was loved and will be sorely missed by many. Peace and blessings to her family.

If you’d like to add a memory or tribute, please email it to

More About the Late President

The Mary Baldwin Magazine celebrated Tyson’s 10th anniversary as president in May 1995 with a special edition titled Grasping the Present, Shaping the Future.

In 2003, the university magazine honored Tyson after she announced that she would retire as president after 18 years of service.

The late Mary Baldwin historian and Professor Emerita of History Pat Menk chronicled Tyson’s tenure in Retrospect: The Tyson Years 1985-2003.

In 2022, Tyson joined former president Pamela Fox for a virtual alumni event, “Four Decades of Leadership,” where they shared reflections about leading Mary Baldwin over periods of great change and growth.