Although death is a part of life, it’s still hard to believe that my friend, LaMont Toliver is not with us on earth anymore. As the Director of UMBC’s Meyerhoff Scholars program, and Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Education, LaMont was a “Peer Mentor” for me … more like a brother in an academic family … a “brother mentor”. LaMont loved UMBC and when I started my position as Director of PROMISE: Maryland’s Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) for grad students, he took a lot of time with me to explain the way that the Meyerhoff program worked and why he was so proud of UMBC. Several parts of the PROMISE program were based upon the foundations of the Meyerhoff program. One of the strongest principles that we learned from them is “intrusive mentoring,” a method by which the mentor establishes a very close connection with the student that allows the mentor to assist with academic, professional, and personal growth. Another friend on campus, Justine Johnson, Associate Director of the Graduate Meyerhoff Fellows program mentioned in a phone conversation last week that “LaMont was mentoring all of us.” Students had him as a mentor, but many of us who are employed by UMBC or work for similar programs looked up to him too.
Like many of the students, I spent time in his office or around campus, taking in all of the advice. There were many conversations but I have a few memories to share.
- I loved his commitment to his family. Everyone who went to his office, always saw all of the pictures, and heard the latest news. He loved his beautiful wife Lisa and his boys. He was always charismatic, but his face lit up even more when he talked about them.
- I loved when he and my husband would have such a good time rooting for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Baltimore’s Raven country.
- I enjoyed hearing him talk about the Meyerhoff staff. He talked about them like family members. He referred to them like siblings. Keith, Mitsue, Taifa, Rehana … all of the staff, he always talked about how great they were. He praised their excellence and commitment constantly.
- I too loved the “Toliverisms” — Begin with the end in mind. Questions, comments, concerns? I loved his interaction with the students.
- I was honored by the “transfer.” When a Meyerhoff student was about to start grad school at UMBC, both LaMont and Keith would let me know that s/he was one of theirs. It was like they were sending me a family member.
- I loved seeing the love and support that LaMont gave to students of all races and backgrounds. He called them his sons and daughters. When I came to UMBC, I knew that Meyerhoff was a program that supported underrepresented students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields, but I later learned that students from all backgrounds with a commitment to getting a PhD in STEM and with a commitment to diversity could become Meyerhoffs. Whenever students came to his office while I was there, he would introduce me, tell them to talk to me about future grad school questions, and when they left the room, he would proceed to tell me about all of their wonderful characteristics and attributes.
- I’ll miss the advice that he would give about how we could make individual contributions to continue to help UMBC to grow.
- He continually praised UMBC’s faculty for their commitment and their efforts. In his conversations with me, he always spoke of his appreciation for the administration, and for so many staff members across campus. He admired his colleagues.
There’s so much more … leading the groups during Selection Weekend, taking crazy pictures with students (the ones where he would strike a pose without smiling) at a cookout, talking about how we were going to work hard to contribute to making UMBC great, talking about my family and all of the Omegas (Dad, brother, godbrother, cousins) … there are too many memories to write down.
He will be greatly missed. He was a great man. He touched so many lives. I told some of “my” students (former Meyerhoffs, now in grad school), that they are part of a legacy. To those students of all backgrounds at UMBC who didn’t know LaMont Toliver, his presence and his work probably made a difference in your lives, even if it was indirectly through a discussion or policy or initiative that serves all students.
I will close with words that my husband, Damon Tull, said tonight and wanted to share as he remembered LaMont: “LaMont was a general in the fight to develop excellence among all students. Follow his love for people, follow the way that he loved and served people, follow his desire to see the next generation succeed. He was a great friend.”