Dr. Ronald Hugh Lafayette, a most respected educator, lifelong friend and long time Washington resident, died the morning of February 22, 2014 after a short illness. Born January 5, 1942 in Glendale, California, Ron lived his entire adult life in the Skagit Valley, and in the Greater Seattle and Spokane metropolitan areas.
It would be impossible to put enough color into a single article to fully celebrate Ron’s life of service. In early adulthood, something changed for Ron. His family, his wife Pamela’s family and David Morse of Morse Hardware combined to kindle in him a passionate, lifelong commitment to learning, to education and to the impact that education can have for our communities.
Ron graduated from Western Washington University with a degree in Elementary Education and Speech Pathology in 1969 and earned his Master’s degree in Audiology in 1971. Ron began his career by serving as the Assistant Director of the Regional Program for Deaf Students. Thereafter, he led curriculum, legislative and leadership initiatives for students with disabilities, particularly for the deaf and the hearing impaired. Friends well remember walking in Seattle with Ron as he signed with students and friends as they passed by.
Ron received his Doctorate in Higher Education Administration from Brigham Young University in 1985, investing deeply in understanding how leadership could affect social change and more productive educational systems. Throughout the balance of his career, rooted largely in the State of Washington’s Community Colleges, his organizations fostered pragmatic solutions through a portfolio of on-campus, on-site and distance learning programs. He believed deeply in the value of higher education not only for our students, but for the businesses and industries for whom they would work. He sought to deliver education across “distance” that was measured by more than just simple miles, as in the more isolating socio-economic distance found in the state’s Indian reservations and prisons. By 1990, Ron was the Executive Vice President of the Institute for Extended Learning at the Community Colleges of Spokane, serving 28,000 students annually at 5 primary and 150 satellite locations. Having consulted nationally, before Congress, and internationally on 3 continents, he served as the interim President of Spokane Community College. He was then asked to serve as the Director of Workforce Education in Olympia for the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. He lived uncomfortably on his small boat and away from his cherished family in order to develop and implement legislation related to Workforce Education & Training, Vocational/Technical Education, Welfare reform and Job Skills Programs. He also was responsible for the oversight of $68 million in annual federal and state monies dedicated to the state’s community and technical colleges.
Ron assumed the leadership of North Seattle Community College as President in 2001. Until his retirement in 2010, Ron continued to provide a path for non-traditional students with programs like “Today’s Students – Tomorrow’s Teachers,” an extension center developed with Western Washington University. Similar programs were designed with Eastern Washington University in electrical engineering, and with the State Legislature to build Employment Security and Department of Social and Health Services partnerships on campus.
Ron’s commitment to higher education in our global communities somehow never constrained his deep commitments to family and friends. He was always ready with a quick sense of humor, an unwavering dedication and a gracious approach. Ron lived a life of service – it is simply who he was. Even during his brief battle with cancer, he was committed to ensuring that all of his relationships were full and rewarding for us all. His legacy will be much more than his professional achievements. It will be the sense of connection he brought to us all. He was particularly magical with young people. He so easily connected with and mentored our children in ways that will be remembered for generations. It is simply who he was.
Ron is survived by his loving wife Pamela, his three children Nathan, Jason and Anne-Marie, his father Harry, his siblings Beverly, Robert, Mark and Marcella. He loved his UW Huskies, his Seahawks and his Mariners in equal measure. He loved his boat, his RV and the freedom with friends and family that resulted. He loved us all. And we loved him back, deeply and forever.
Celebration of Life
Saturday, March 8
First Evangelical Lutheran Church
2015 E Blackburn Road
Mount Vernon, WA