The Austin College community mourns the death today of Dr. Bernice Melvin, professor emerita of French. Since retiring from Austin College in 2015, she had lived in Charlottesville, Virginia, enjoying the closeness to her daughter, Alyssa, and her family.
Bernice’s daughter posted the message below on Bernice’s Facebook page this morning:
A long time ago when she first got sick, my mom asked me to write this message here when the time came. I have long been dreading it, but sadly the time has now come.
Bernice died early this morning at the hospice center here in Charlottesville. She was heavily sedated for the last couple of days, so not in pain, but also not really aware of her surroundings. If you wrote or otherwise tried to contact her but didn’t hear back, know that if she could have, she would certainly have replied and thanked you for your friendship and kindness.
Per her request, there will be a cremation but no service of any sort. If you wish to honor her, please do so by remembering her unfailing kindness, amazing ability to find the best in anyone, and unflagging optimism and joy in life. On her behalf, thank you all for your friendship. Be well.
Immediate responses to that post from her many students and colleagues spoke of Bernice’s tremendous role in their lives as students and of friendships that have endured through many years since, her love of teaching and of France, her leadership within the Austin College faculty, her wit, her kindness, her wisdom. Amazing, mentor, strong, and favorite professor echoed again and again.
Bernice joined the faculty in 1980 and in 1984, was installed in the Margarett Root Brown Chair of Foreign Languages and Literatures. She served for several years as the dean of Humanities and, later, as director of the Johnson Center for Faculty Development and Excellence in Teaching. Giving attention to the scholarly work and accomplishments of her faculty colleagues was always a priority of her work. As one colleague wrote, “Bernice defined the very best aspects of what a small liberal arts college could be, and she taught (her colleagues) by example.”
Dr. Andrea Overbay, current director of the Johnson Center, said that Bernice’s vision and leadership during her time as director made the Johnson Center what it is today. “She was a mentor to many, and her work continues to shape the culture at Austin College through the numerous Johnson Center programs that she developed,” said Overbay, associate professor of mathematics.
Dr. Melvin was honored by the College with its Homer P. Rainey Award for Outstanding Achievement and Service in 2007. In 2013, she received Austin College’s Excellence in Teaching and Campus Leadership Award, recognizing her having “made a distinct difference in the teaching climate in areas such as classroom teaching, campus leadership, pioneering pedagogy, and instructional support.” In 2019, the Johnson Center named its continuing Sabbatical Lectures the Bernice S. Melvin Sabbatical Series in her honor.