William Percy Hytche Sr., the former president of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore who was a national advocate of historically black colleges and universities, died yesterday morning of unknown causes at his home in Princess Anne. He was 78.
Under Dr. Hytche's leadership, the university added 32 degree programs at bachelor's, master's and doctorate levels, saw its student enrollment more than double to 3,200, and its campus expanded and beautified.
Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, described Dr. Hytche as a mentor for himself and other younger educators.
"He understood what it meant to be educated and appreciated the power of education to transform lives," Dr. Hrabowski said, recalling Dr. Hytche's positive attitude, humor and smile.
Dr. Hytche was one of nine brothers and sisters growing up in rural Oklahoma. His father was a minister and a farmer. Dr. Hytche attended public schools and graduated from Langston University and Oklahoma State University.
Dr. Hytche studied at the University of Heidelberg in Germany while serving as a sergeant first class during the Korean War, said his son, William P. Hytche Jr.
All three of Dr. Hytche's children - his son and his two daughters - work in education. William Hytche Jr. is dean of students at Tennessee State University, also a historically black institution.
His daughter Jaqueta Hytche-Simms, a former special education teacher, works as a mentor for Wicomico County public schools and lives in Princess Anne. The elder daughter, Pamelia Hunter, is a university counselor at Texas State Technical College in Waco.
"Daddy was a very strong role model," his son said.
The university president began his career as a high school teacher in the Ponca City, Okla., school district. Dr. Hytche was the first black teacher in the system, his son said.
John T. Williams, president of what was then known as Maryland State College, recruited Dr. Hytche as a math professor in 1960.
According to news reports, he taught required algebra, geometry and trigonometry courses to the approximately 700 students enrolled on a campus then so poorly funded that officials couldn't afford nighttime lighting.
He rose through the ranks as math department chairman, dean of student affairs and chairman of the Division of Liberal Studies, until he was named chancellor of the university 16 years later. The title was changed to president after the restructuring of the university system in 1988.
Dr. Hytche was able to maintain his school's independence despite efforts in the 1970s to merge the campus with Salisbury State University as colleges became integrated.
"They wanted to close us down, merge us, make a chicken farm out of us, make a prison out of us," Dr. Hytche said in a 1995 interview with The Sun.
"He believed in the mission of the institution," said Ronnie Holden, the school's vice president for administrative affairs, who said Dr. Hytche hired him 30 years ago.
The University System of Maryland made UMES a full partner in 1978, Dr. Holden said. "From there, Dr. Hytche was able to develop the campus both academically and physically," he said.
"They created new programs that were unique to the university system and unique to the state, so that no matter what the race, it would be attractive to the student," Dr. Holden said.
Known as an advocate for historically black institutions, Dr. Hytche was appointed to President George H.W. Bush's Advisory Board on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
It was not unusual for Dr. Hytche to spend Saturday evenings in his office, working on plans in preparation for Sunday afternoon meetings with his staff after their respective church services. He was also often "contacting legislators throughout the weekend to get support for the institution," the vice president said.
The president's hard work inspired those below him, Dr. Holden said. "By him being so committed, then his staff as well was committed," Dr. Holden said.
He remembers the president greeting students as he walked across campus, even remembering their parents if they were former students. But his fame extended beyond UMES.
"Anywhere you walked on the Eastern Shore, everyone knew him," Dr. Holden said.
After he retired in 1997, Dr. Hytche led a delegation of 12 college presidents, sponsored by Americans for Democracy in Africa, who observed a Nigerian election in 1998.
He also maintained an office on campus, where he wrote both his memoir, Step-By-Step to the Top: The Saga of Historically Black Universities, and Polishing the Diamond: A History of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, the first book detailing the institution's past.
His son said his father enjoyed fishing and spending time with his four grandchildren. A lifelong Methodist, Dr. Hytche was also active in his church, Metropolitan United Methodist in Princess Anne.
Plans for services had not been finalized last night, said UMES spokeswoman Suzanne Street.
In addition to his son, daughters and grandchildren, Dr. Hytche is survived by his wife, Deloris; and his sister, Loretta Gilkey of Tulsa, Okla.