Connie Ledoux Book impressed me right from the start.
I saw her for the first time several years ago, nearly a lifetime it seems today. I was in attendance at the then-annual lunch hosted by the North Carolina bureau of the Associated Press in conjunction with the annual Winter Institute and awards ceremony conducted by the North Carolina Press Association. Book was one of the featured speakers in Chapel Hill that day. Her topic was pretty much my favorite subject: Open government. She’s for it. That’s one way to get on my good side right there.
Book, then a professor at Elon’s School of Communications, was also executive director of the almost brand-new Sunshine Center of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition. She gave a rousing introduction to the Elon-based Sunshine Center and its goals to the assembled and appreciative editors and reporters that day. At the time, I was working for the Jacksonville Daily News and was far removed from Elon, a small college with which I was familiar from my reporting and editing stint at the Burlington Times-News from 1984 to 1992.
Connie Book and the Sunshine Center were both revelations that day. She was engaging and sharp. I liked her immediately and remember thinking, “I could work with her one day.” I might have even expressed it to my boss at the time, Elliott Potter. We both left the luncheon with a high opinion of the Sunshine Center and Book. I think everyone did.
Fast forward to the summer of 2012 and a morning meeting in the office of Times-News publisher Paul Mauney. I was asked to attend and meet with Connie Book, then a dean and associate provost at Elon, to discuss the start of an initiative that ultimately became Community Connections. Book asked for a meeting to determine if the newspaper was interested in a partnership with Elon in which we co-produced a series of forums to discuss the important issues of the day. The idea stemmed from Elon’s interest in drawing people from the Alamance County community to campus for lectures, forums and events. Elon and Book thought a series like this would be a driver of civic engagement for the campus and off-campus communities. For Elon it targeted multiple goals.
The newspaper was definitely interested, and I was proud to be a part of it. It gave me the opportunity to work with Book and become better acquainted with Elon along with its faculty, staff and students.
It was the start of a rewarding professional relationship. With significant advisory help from Book, we built Community Connections from scratch. Professor Tom Arcaro was there from the start and still is. Catherine Parsons played a key role then and now. Others have come and gone, including Book who left Elon in 2015 after 16 years to become the first female provost and dean at The Citadel, a bastion of male dominance for decades. Five years after the inception of Community Connections, though, the program she helped found still exists with many of the principles created at the start still intact. Our first session this school year is set for Oct. 23 in Lakeside Meeting Room. The foundation Book helped create has endured. But I missed working with her.
While I wished Book well as she departed Elon, I also knew this move to The Citadel was a major opportunity that could open bigger doors down the road.
Fast forward again to Monday. Elon University announced that Connie Ledoux Book will take on the nearly impossible task of following Leo Lambert as university president. Book becomes the ninth president in Elon’s history and the second since it became a university as opposed to a college. She’s the first female president in Elon history. She takes over on March 1 as Lambert’s remarkable 18 years at the helm comes to a close and he transitions to president emeritus after a one-year sabbatical.
Monday was a historic day on campus and it was treated that way. A welcome ceremony was held in Alumni Gym with students, faculty and staff invited to attend. Kerrii Anderson, chair of the Elon Board of Trustees, was there as was trustee Wes Ellingburg, who headed the search committee. Anderson said the vote of the trustees was unanimous. Elingburg said during the national recruitment for Lambert’s successor the search committee received dozens of applications but also accepted suggestions for possible hires from people on and off campus. He said overwhelmingly the most suggested name was Connie Ledoux Book.
I’m not surprised. I thought after an impactful period at The Citadel she would make an excellent choice for Elon. I’m glad she was interested in coming back.
Speaking on Monday, Book, also an Elon parent of a 2017 grad, struck all the right notes. Her 16-year connection to Elon, as not only a teacher but as a top-level administrator, gives her great understanding of the university’s past, present and future. She helped develop the last strategic plan and will be on board for establishing the next one. She understands the unique culture crafted at Elon under Lambert’s extraordinary leadership and is positioned to build upon that incredible foundation. Elon’s trajectory as a national leader in higher education should continue without any bumps.
For Book, Monday was the start of a homecoming. She still has many friends here who were eager to welcome her back. At the ceremony, Lambert was joined by his predecessor Fred Young. A representative of the late president emeritus Dr. Earl Danieley’s family was also in attendance. It was a great show of support. Lambert gave Book an acorn specially designed on behalf of the previous eight presidents.
From my perspective, it’s a pleasure to see Book in her new role. She began her career as a journalist, working for WAFB TV in Baton Rouge, La. She has a BA in Journalism from LSU and a doctorate in Journalism from the University of Georgia. As I noted before, she was once executive director of the Sunshine Center of the N.C. Open Government Coalition and remains a board member. While she has a master’s degree in education, education administration and supervision from Northwestern State University and studied at the Graduate School of Education at Harvard, she was a journalist first.
It’s always good to have another kindred spirit in the house.
More stories about the selection of Connie Ledoux Book as Elon’s ninth president.