Dorothy Elliott, founding assistant director of the John B. Ervin Scholars Program, died Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, at her home in St. Louis. She was 84.
Affectionately known as Mrs. E., Elliott was a sounding board, champion and second mother to generations of Ervin scholars, long after her retirement in 2002. Michelle Purdy, associate professor of education in Arts & Sciences and a graduate of the program, called Elliott every Mother’s Day. And she was not alone.
“So many of us have leaned on her over the years,” said Purdy, who wrote “A Legacy of Commitment,” a history of the program. “She celebrated our happiest moments, sending birthday cards and baby gifts and attending alumni weddings. And she was there for our saddest moments. When my father passed, she and her sister drove to Mississippi for the service. That meant the world to me.”
The Ervin Scholars Program was founded in 1987 by the late James McLeod, vice chancellor for students and dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, with the support of Elliott and the late Adrienne Glore, assistant dean of students. Originally a scholarship for Black students committed to academic excellence, leadership, service and diversity, the program is now open to exceptional students of all backgrounds.
“The success of the program today is very much a reflection of the people who created it almost 35 years ago,” Purdy said. “The program is built on Dean McLeod’s vision, Dean Glore’s knowledge of campus and Mrs. Elliott’s ability to nurture students.”
And parents as well, said Wilmetta Toliver-Diallo, who served as the program’s interim director and is assistant dean in Arts & Sciences. Elliott enjoyed meeting with parents, reassuring them that their children would be supported at Washington University. She made sure that students had a ride to the airport; a fan to cheer during games and performances; and opportunities to both explore and serve St. Louis.
“You often hear that phrase, ‘It is the little things.’ Mrs. E. personified what that meant,” Toliver-Diallo said. “Every day, I try to put into practice what Mrs. E. taught me.”
Elliott studied at what is now known as Harris-Stowe State University under John B. Ervin, a revered educator. She went on to serve as an elementary school teacher for 21 years in St. Louis Public Schools and the Maplewood Richmond Heights School District before arriving at Washington University in 1984 as an admissions counselor. But she never stopped teaching, said Laura Stephenson, who succeeded Elliott as assistant director.
“She shared her joy of learning and discovery with the scholars,” said Stephenson, who now advises students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “She also helped students be confident in who they were in the moment and who they would one day become. That was especially important for students of color.”
Elliott is survived by her daughter, Karla; grandson, Vernon Jr.; and siblings Marie Brown and Shedrick Hearon Jr. She was preceded in death by her husband, Jerry, and her son, Keith. A virtual service is scheduled for 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 21. View the livestream here.