Hero, mentor, friend — Dr. Robert C. Cloud (MS ‘66, Ed.D. ‘69) was all three of these to me. His influence, teachings, kindness, and care substantially shaped my life and my professional career.
I first met Dr. Cloud, or RCC as he often playfully referred to himself as to others, in 1989 when I enrolled in a master’s degree program in the department where he was chair at Baylor University. Always dressed as a college president (he had been one for the ten years prior) RCC exemplified integrity, honor, discipline, loyalty, dedication, scholarship, and passion for teaching and students, all while never taking himself too seriously.
He had a gift for engaging students one at a time and all together at once. He challenged students to think deeply, behave ethically, and work tirelessly, always. In his deep Texas drawl, he kidded about being raised in “Bellmead, Texas.” His sense of humor gifted us all with innumerable belly laughs.
He faithfully talked about his family, the senior men’s Sunday School class that he taught without fail for decades, his beloved wife Martha and the children and grandchildren he was so clearly and extraordinarily proud of. And he spoke regularly and affectionately of his aged mother Meemaw as he shared her deep well of folk wisdom with “Meemaw says …” and I know he surely called or visited her every day until she passed away in her 90s.
I stayed in touch with Dr. Cloud as I went out into the world to work in the academy. And I returned a decade later to enter the Scholars of Practice doctoral program, a program that Dr. Cloud had built and chaired, to be his research assistant for three years. It was in that doctoral program that he taught us all to lead institutions as an unwavering example of how to lead boldly, but humbly, with high expectations paired with compassion and generosity, and to be willing to walk away from any job that expected you to compromise your values.
Dr. Cloud chaired my dissertation and hooded me when I walked the stage that final time. He wrote me letters of recommendation for my jobs and kept up with my career. We met for lunch at the faculty dining hall, and he would always provide the soundest career advice. He contributed a chapter to my first book and when I finally founded my higher education consulting company, he consulted for us pro bono. He won our first Lifetime Leadership Award at our first Presidents Conference.
He was the most dearly loved and respected professor of my collective ten years of college, and he continued to influence my career and life – as he did for hundreds of other former students – until the day he left this earth.
He called me about a month ago from the hospital where he was getting what he implied was a routine treatment for a chronic illness. He would never let on that things were not OK. I loved to hear the phone ring and hear that long Texas drawl saying “Daaacter Daaaarden, this is RrrrrCeeeCeee.” I was planning a cohort reunion to recognize him since he retired in May – something that he would not have given permission for, but we were going to do it anyway. I emailed him a few weeks after his last call to see if he was feeling up to an outdoor lunch. I never heard back.
There are some people that you believe will live forever. Dr. Robert C. Cloud was one of those.
I will miss him until we can all have that reunion above which, to quote RCC, is probably “more than a thousand miles from here.” Meanwhile, please give our love to Meemaw.
Mary Landon Darden (Ed.D. ‘06) earned her doctorate in higher education administration from Baylor under the mentorship of Dr. Cloud. She has spent her life making higher education better as an administrator, an educator, and now as founder of Higher Education Innovation, an independent company with a mission to research, develop, and train academic leaders to save the future of their institutions.