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Remembering Zenobia

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Posted: Wednesday, October 29, 2008 12:00 am

Zenobia Hikes' tremendous absence a day after failing to recover from multiple heart surgeries has reverberated among her friends, colleagues and fellow Hokies who described hers as the warmest personality on campus. She could also maintain an uncannily pristine appearance under pressure, even in the most messy of circumstances.

Related: A tribute to Zenobia Hikes

"She comes back with this chilidog; I can't even describe the condiments that were on top of that thing, because I'm pretty sure there might have been some coleslaw, as well," said Arlane Gordon-Bray, undergraduate Board of Visitors representative, of a recent football game she attended with Hikes in the President's box. "Fork and knife, (she) eats this chilidog, not a stain to be seen. I don't think she even used a napkin on her mouth at all. Just perfectly ate a chilidog."

Hikes, former vice president for student affairs, died Monday following complications suffered after multiple heart valve repair surgery performed on Oct. 7. She remained in Johns Hopkins hospital's intensive care unit for her entire stay, and underwent multiple procedures attempting to stop the valve's "severe" leaking. She was 53.

Tech president Charles Steger has named associate vice president for student affairs Ed Spencer interim vice president while the university conducts a "nationwide" search for her permanent replacement.

Steger said Hikes had the enlightened outlook to lead Virginia Tech to stellar aspirations, and her enormous contributions to Tech's reputation cannot be easily replaced.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of Dr. Hikes... She was a wonderful person," Steger said. "She was one of the key members of the leadership of the university and has done an exemplary job. She was a wonderful role model for faculty, staff and students. One of the parts that is so troubling, is she had such great potential. And for her to be lost at this young age is a great tragedy for all of us."

Spencer, who worked closely with Hikes during her three-year career at Tech, said she had a genuine concern for the community's overall success. He said her passion as a leader in the administration inspired her coworkers and guided the division of student affairs to push for an all-inclusive and cohesive community unity.

"She was an outstanding leader, a very charismatic, caring leader," Spencer said. "She left a permanent mark on the university and the entire community ... She just had a real knack for managing fine detail, and minute detail as well as having a vision, of where the division and the university should be. And that's a rare combination."

Easily her most recognizable achievement was the convocation ceremonies on the day following the April 16 shootings.

"I remember walking over to the convocation on April 17 and realizing how remarkably calm and reassuring she was knowing what she was about to say as the moderator ... of ceremonies for the convocation and we all know what an incredible job she really did for that," Spencer said.

As director of multicultural programs, Ray Williams works on the "ground level" reporting up to Hikes' office. Though, Williams said, Hikes was such a devoted leader, she always made sure he knew how much she appreciated his work.

"She had a real zeal for the work she did," Williams said. "She was a real inspiration to those of who worked with students. When she came along she gave us a breath of fresh air, new wind under our wings so to speak, in terms of our activating our engagement with students, and thinking positively about a student community, and what they could bring to a campus."

Williams said one time she came to his office, and brought him a gift he'd hardly been expecting. It was an ornate black cup adorned with white script she had gotten during a trip to Japan.

"I thought of all the people who Dr. Hikes brought a souvenir back, what made her think to bring one to me?" Williams said. "It let me know very early on while I am two or three levels below her rank she never forgot the work those of us who work for the ground floor level of students do. That was always very special to me."

Her administrative colleagues agreed that Hikes derived her energy from her relationships with students. Hikes was often seen walking across the Drillfield, immersed in the student body, and cordially greeting many as she passed. Whenever she had the chance, she'd go out of her way for her student friends.

"Dr. Hikes was one of the greatest allies the LGBTA has on this campus and she was an outstanding woman. We were very proud to have her as a friend and we are much better for having known her," said Allison Wood, president of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Alliance. "She would come to Squires for meetings and always stop by our office and say 'Hello,' how were we doing, and ask if there were anything she could do for us. She was personally very caring about all of us."

Earlier in the year Hikes spoke at the freshmen pass in review parade, and honored the young cadet's progress with their cadre leaders in their transformation from civilian life to corps life.

"The corps of cadets and our alumni are profoundly saddened at the sudden loss of Dr. Hikes. She has been a strong advocate of our programs," Colonel Rock Roszak, director of Corps alumni relations said. "Cadets were her students... and she was concerned about the professional growth development and achievement of all of our students. We'll miss her a great deal."

To Bray, she represented everything a female in a high position of leadership could be.

"I was honestly amazed at the way she was so professional, yet personable at the same time," Gordon-Bray said. "I've never encountered someone that had that dynamic personality."

Hikes' influential impression on the university has left an enormous role to be replaced. Students and members of the Tech community left messages inside two books in the lobby of Squires Student Center, and placed flowers at an impromptu memorial above the April 16th stones.

Hikes is survived by her two daughters, Amber, a spring 2008 University of Pennsylvania Masters graduate, and Brittany, a college student in Georgia.

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