In Memoriam: Student Affairs Dean Beverly Harmon, a Caring Counselor for Students

Beverly Harmon

Beverly Harmon served as assistant dean for student affairs from 1996-2005. Photo by Tom Cogill

July 19, 2019

Beverly Pines Harmon, an assistant dean for student affairs for the University of Virginia School of Law known for her warm spirit, died Saturday from cancer. She was 73.

Harmon led the Office of Student Affairs from 1996-2005, and was so beloved by students that many called her “Mom.” In that role she built a student-centered environment while counseling her charges on everything from organizing an event to dealing with an illness during exam season. And when students had a big problem, they turned to Harmon first.

“It is hard to express just how much Dean Harmon contributed to the Law School,” said Patrice Hayden J.D.-MBA ’02, now director of associate recruitment at Hogan Lovells and a former Law School administrator.

“I can think of so many times she responded to people in need on big occasions — an apartment fire right before exams, or 9/11 — or small daily frustrations. But she went above and beyond doing what was necessary. She gave students the tools they needed to be successful both in law school and in life. And did so with a smile.”

Beverly Harmon with students and Abby Gillette
Harmon talks with prospective students and Assistant Dean Abby Gillette at an admitted students open house in 1999. UVA Law Special Collections/Law School Foundation

Harmon left the Law School to live in Houston, where her husband, William Harmon, had become president of Central College in February 2005. William, who died in 2017, had also worked closely with students at UVA, serving for 10 years as the University’s senior vice president and vice president for student affairs. The couple were the first African Americans to live in a pavilion in UVA’s Academical Village.

In an interview marking her retirement from the Law School, Harmon said she thought of the students “as my children.”

“I know that people probably believe that I am sort of exaggerating, but our students are phenomenal,” she said in 2005. “If you need ideas, they’re always around to help with that, they volunteer to assist others, and they’re very supportive, and for the most part very appreciative. This is that kind of environment — where giving back is the norm.”

Former Dean John C. Jeffries Jr. ’73 said Harmon “was infinitely patient and always calm.”  

“She somehow managed to combine constructive, level-headed advice with unfailing tenderness and sympathy,” Jeffries said. “Students loved her.”

A New Jersey native, Harmon earned her undergraduate degree in English from Johnson C. Smith University. After graduating she taught first and second grade, then earned her master’s degree in educational administration and supervision from Wichita State University. She worked as an assistant to two superintendents before becoming a principal who turned around troubled schools. At one point, while principal at a school in Wichita, Kansas, the superintendent asked her to take on responsibility for a second school — and change the school’s morale within six weeks.

“Problem-solving has been a career for me,” she said in 2005. “I like challenges very much. I like people saying, ‘No, I don’t think that’s possible.’ That’s a great motivator for me.”

She then made the move to higher education full-time at the University of Pittsburgh, where she was an educational researcher in a think tank working on a $10 million initiative aimed at improving math skills among disadvantaged students across the nation. After that, she joined the Law School.

“When I came here it was the first time in my life when I didn’t have a ‘next,’” she said. “I thought that was significant.”

During her time at UVA, the Class of 1998 gave as a class gift a scholarship named in her honor, and the Black Law Students Association named its service award the “Beverly Harmon Service to BLSA Award” in honor of her many contributions to the organization.

Hayden said many alumni maintained connections to Harmon well after they graduated.

“For me personally, Dean Harmon was a sounding board for personal and professional decisions in life,” Hayden said. “And while I suspect that she served in this role for many people, she did so in a way that made each person feel like they were the sole focus of her attention and her love. Dean Harmon was truly loved by all and will be sorely missed.”

John Franchini ’00, now a partner at Robertson Anschutz & Schneid in Philadelphia, said that when his dad passed away before exams his first semester, Harmon came to his aid.

“Having been raised as an only child by a single parent, he was all I had,” Franchini said. “I had nowhere to go or live. Dean Harmon stepped in and became my family. With her support, I went home for the funeral, and rather than dropping out, I returned to take exams on time with my classmates. We remained family, through law school and after.

“Mine is just one of the countless stories of the way she touched lives. Mentoring students through difficult times. Encouraging them to find their path. Redirecting them when needed. Giving tough love when required. But always giving all of herself to her students. To know her was to be touched by her. And to be touched by her was to love her.” 

Harmon is survived by the couple’s daughter, Hilary Harmon Green, and their grandson, Christopher Green, as well as a host of relatives and friends.

“She was so passionate about her role in the lives of her students,” Harmon Green said. “She took it very seriously and cared for them deeply. My heart is just broken. She was the most amazing mother and friend anyone could have.”

A memorial service will be held Monday with visitation at 10 a.m. and services at 11 a.m. at Pilgrim Congregational Church in Houston. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking for donations in Harmon’s name to the American Cancer Society.

With reporting by Lee Kolber ’06

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