Crowther to retire from RCC; search for new president begins

by Quinton Sheppard - Posted on Dec 05, 2018 - 01:52 PM

Photo: Dr. Elizabeth “Sissy” Crowther, who has served as president of Rappahannock Community College since 2004, announced her retirement during a press conference last week at the school’s Waraw campus. A search for her replacement is expected to take six or seven months to complete. Photo by Quinton Sheppard

Dr. Elizabeth “Sissy” Crowther, who has served as president of Rappahannock Community College since 2004, announced her retirement during a press conference last week at the school’s Waraw campus. A search for her replacement is expected to take six or seven months to complete. Photo by Quinton Sheppard

After serving as Rappahannock Community College president for more than 14 years, Elizabeth “Sissy” Crowther announced last Thursday afternoon during a press conference at the school’s Warsaw campus her intentions to retire at the end of the 2018-2019 school year.

According to Crowther, the search for a new president will begin in the coming weeks and will take six or seven months to complete.

As the college enters into its 50th year in 2020, Crowther said she couldn’t think of a better time to take the step into retirement, encompassing her mantra of change that has been at the forefront of her presidency. 

When Crowther interviewed for the president’s position at RCC, she said she told those interviewing her, “Don’t hire me if you want the place to look the same in five years.” She added, “Now, 15 years later, we look very different.”

Crowther emphasized that she will be leaving the college in good hands. “I see folks here at the top of their game doing highly recognized things,” she said.

“We’ve had a good run,” Crowther added. “The school is in a good place now and we have exceptional things happening here. It’s an attractive situation for a new president to enter. I’m proud of what the folks here have done and it’s a great time for a transition.”

In retirement, Crowther said she plans to help rejuvenate her family’s farm on the Northern Neck, as well as spend more time with her aging mother. She will also continue to serve on two professional boards “and hopefully be a better board member,” she said. She might also do some consulting, pursue some personal interests and travel.

Crowther also said she plans to support RCC. “My life has come full circle,” she said.

A Northern Neck native, Crowther grew up on Bruington Farm in Northumberland. Her late father, Rudolph Prosser Crowther Sr. was president and then chairman of Lillian Lumber Company there. He served on the RCC local board in the 1980s, where he exercised his financial and facilities expertise in higher education, a cause in which he fervently believed. 

After graduating from St. Margaret’s School in Tappahannock, Crowther attended Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, where she earned her BA and later a master’s in English. She later moved to Richmond where she went into financial services. 

The firm she worked for at the time partnered with J. Sargeant Reynolds and John Tyler community colleges to provide educational programs for its employees. “I saw adults who had never attended college successfully complete classes, earn certificates and degrees, changing their lives for the better and expanding their job opportunities,” Crowther said. This is what inspired her to shift her career focus from banking to the community college system.

Crowther applied and was accepted into a doctoral program at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. There, she became good friends with fellow student Robert Griffin, who was the academic dean at RCC’s Glenns campus. When a job became available at RCC, Griffin encouraged Crowther to apply.

Her first job at RCC was a research position. Then, in 1993, she advanced to a new position as Head of Instruction at Lord Fairfax Community College that serves the Shenandoah Valley and Piedmont regions of Virginia. Then, after more than seven years at Lord Fairfax, Crowther joined Blue Ridge Community College as Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs.

“I had worked at Blue Ridge for over three years when the position for President of Rappahannock Community College became open,” Crowther said. “I knew the college and many of the faculty and staff. I knew the community. Everything fell into place.”

Once offered the job, she moved back to Bruington Farm, her home place, in 2004, and returned to RCC as its third president. 

Since then, along with the help of her invaluable faculty and staff, Crowther said RCC’s Educational Foundation’s assets have grown from $1 million to $11 million. Total facility renovations have been completed at both the Glenns and Warsaw campuses and the college has added satellite sites in Kilmarnock and New Kent.

Also, since 2004, partnerships have been expanded with various community organizations, agencies and businesses including the establishment of LEAD Northern Neck. 

The school has received numerous awards including several consecutive years of receiving the Great College to Work for Honor Roll from the Chronicle for Higher Education. The school also received the following recent accolades: Named the #2 Tech Savvy Community College in the Nation from the Center for Digital Education; the #3 Best “Certificate in Web Design and Development” program in the U.S. from BestColleges.com; the #1 College-Based Nursing Program in Virginia from RegisteredNursing.org (including 4-year schools) and a Military-Friendly School Bronze Designation from VIQTORY Media.

School’s history

In September 1969, representatives of 13 counties met in Urbanna to create a local board for a new educational institution—a community college. With campuses planned on both sides of the Rappahannock River, it seemed fitting that the school’s name reflect it.

Ground was broken in Glenns in September 1970 and then in Warsaw in 1972. The school held its first graduation in June 1973, conferring 40 degrees and 11 certificates. Today, the school’s enrollment exceeds 4,650 and has guaranteed admissions agreements with over 30 public and private colleges and universities.