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Dr. Ronald Carrier, JMU's fourth president, passes away


SUMMARY: Dr. Ronald Edwin Carrier, 85, widely known as one of the most dynamic and effective college leaders in the nation, passed away on Sept. 18, 2017 in Harrisonburg, Va. He catapulted James Madison University to national prominence during his 27-year presidency.

Photo of Dr. Carrier

Ron was born the fifth child in the family on August 18, 1932, in Bluff City, Tenn., to the late Melissa Mae Miller Carrier and James Murphy Carrier.  His boyhood and high-school years were spent in Bluff City, where his ethics and values were formed.  He liked to talk about his chores of helping his father slaughter the hogs and working in the tobacco fields.  He was active in high-school sports and credited his coach with inspiring him to pursue higher education.

In 1955 Ron was graduated from East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tenn., where he met the love of his life, Edith Marie Johnson from Kingsport, Tenn.  In their senior year, Ron was elected president of the student body and Edith was elected secretary and treasurer, thus beginning their incredible lifetime together.  They were selected as the most outstanding students, marking the first time two students had been selected for the annual honor.  Following his college graduation with a B.S. degree in economics, Ron and Edith married and moved to Illinois where they started their family and where Ron earned his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in economics at the University of Illinois.

Following attainment of his advanced degrees, Ron served as associate professor of economics at the University of Mississippi from 1960 to 1963, directing research for NASA and the Chamber of Commerce.  He moved to Memphis State University in 1963 as professor of economics and director of the university’s research programs.  He served as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Memphis State University from 1966 to 1971.

He began his presidency of Madison College in 1971 as the youngest college president in the nation.   He retired from James Madison University in 1998 after 27 years of distinguished service as the university's fourth president.  He served as chancellor of JMU from 1998 to 2002 when he was named president emeritus.

During Ron’s tenure at James Madison University, his many accomplishments included significant increases in college board averages, enrollment and new facilities; addition of 40 new programs with five new colleges and establishment of a graduate school; incorporation of an intercollegiate athletics program at Division I; development of international programs in 37 countries; and founding of an autonomous College of Integrated Science and Technology.  During his presidency, Ron was appointed by the Governor of Virginia to provide leadership during 1986 and 1987 as president of Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology.  Ron was extremely proud of the development of the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum and Botanical Gardens — 125 acres of land on the JMU campus set aside for eternity to be used by students and visitors alike.

The presidency of JMU was not just a job.  It was an all-consuming life for Ron and Edith, who spent countless evenings entertaining in their home and never missed a JMU sporting event or other campus activity.  Not one to sit still or waste time,  Ron took pleasure in personally landscaping the campus.  He and Edith enjoyed traveling and sharing their experiences.  He spent many hours with his family and friends, assisting them with whatever they might need and just being a good and generous friend. His grandchildren were his passion.  He possessed a brilliant mind and displayed a great sense of humor — always ready with a good story.  He was a friend to all in every walk of life.  The students loved and respected him and referred to him as “Uncle Ron.”

In honor of Ron's and Edith's many contributions to JMU, Madison Memorial Library was renamed Carrier Library in 1984.

Following his JMU retirement, Ron involved himself in many activities, including Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Logistics Management Institute, president of New College of Virginia, consultant to a number of Fortune 500 companies, service on corporate boards, including Luna Advisory Board, Integic Corporation Board of Directors, Oracle Corporation Higher Education Consultant, Union Planters Bank Board of Directors, Clark Consulting Advisory Board, Dominion Bank Board of Directors and Universal Corporation Board of Directors.  He was involved for many years with the development of Romanian American University and continued to be its adviser.

Ron’s civic activities, affiliations, commissions, councils and public service boards were numerous.  He authored many articles on education, economics and the labor force.

Ron received numerous honors, including honorary doctorates from Romanian American University, The College of William and Mary, Jacksonville State University, Bridgewater College and Francis Marion College.  He was honored with a dedication in the Stars of the Commonwealth Hall of the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, named to the Hall of Fame of East Tennessee State University, named Virginia Cultural Laureate, received the Martin Luther King Jr. Public Service Award and named to American Men in Science.  He was member of Who’s Who in American Science, Who’s Who in the South and Southeast and Who’s Who in America and was twice named Virginian of the Year and named one of the 100 Most Effective College Presidents in the United States.

Ron is survived by his wife Edith Johnson Carrier, daughters Linda Carrier Frazee (husband Butch) of Bainbridge Island, Wash., and Jennine Marie Carrier of Maine and grandchildren Samuel Carrier, Sarah Frazee Trester, Matthew Frazee, Joshua Thomas and Noah Carrier.  

Also surviving are brothers and sisters Herman Carrier, Louis Carrier and Martha Ann Carrier Watson.   He was preceded in death by his son Michael Lavon Carrier, grandson Walter Carrier, brother Lavon Carrier, sister Eleanor Carrier Cowan; half brothers and sisters, Stewart, James, Audrey, Ruth and Martha and sister-in-law Evelyn Johnson McClellan.  Nieces and nephews who survive him are Teresa Robinette, Melissa O’Dell, Beverly Watson, Judith Cowan and Charles Cowan.  Also surviving are sister-in-law Lois Johnson of Harrisonburg, daughter-in-law Linda Carrier of Harrisonburg and nieces-in-law and nephews-in-law Teresa McClellan Ledbetter, Mark McClellan and Scott McClellan.

Details on memorial services will be forthcoming.

Update: Sept. 20, 2017

A memorial service for Dr. Carrier will be held on Oct. 22 at 1 p.m. at James Madison University in Wilson Hall. All are welcome. 

For those who have expressed an interest in making a gift in Dr. Carrier’s memory, the Carrier family has asked that any financial contributions be directed to the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum or Libraries and Educational Technology Fund 


Published: Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Last Updated: Monday, September 10, 2018

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