Leland Madison Park, Ph.D., 77, died on Wednesday, February 13, 2019, at The Pines at Davidson. He was born October 21, 1941, in Orlando, Florida, to Rebecca Leland Park and Arthur Harris Park, who provided his earliest example of civic engagement.
A 1959 graduate of the McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he entered Davidson College in 1959. Often referring to Davidson as a “way of life based on things of the mind, tempered by manners and morality,” Dr. Park quickly made Davidson the way of his life after his graduation in 1963.
Apart from Army service and acquiring advanced degrees from Emory and from Florida State, and a stint on the staff of what was then called the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, Dr. Park devoted the rest of his life to Davidson College.
“Devoted” is, indeed, the right word. When he retired in 2006, Dr. Park concluded nearly 40 years of service as Director of the Library – the third person in Davidson’s history to hold that position. He also was the Library’s most entertaining and authoritative reference source. He welcomed many generations of students, faculty, and staff with presentations of Davidson’s history and with emphasis on the most enduring and admirable of its values and traditions.
He also welcomed new presidents and others with tours beyond campus. As Carol E. Quillen, Davidson’s current president relates, “Leland gave me a tour of the town, complete with a history of who had lived in each house for the past fifty years and some pretty incredible stories.” Others might add that the “incredible stories” were always seasoned with anecdote and, when appropriate, spiced with gossip.
Like any master storyteller, Dr. Park told stories with a point: he sought to make newcomers welcome and to lead them to find the best in both the past and present of what had become his chosen home.
As Dr. Quillen notes, Park’s stories were “punctuated by his joy-filled, one-of-a-kind laugh.” That laugh led to free tickets to comedies in the early days of the Davidson Community Players; his joyful laughter could help bring together the Davidson community beyond the campus boundaries.
One of the leaders instrumental in preserving the town’s branch of the Charlotte Mecklenburg library, and a supporter of many other community efforts, Dr. Park was honored in 2011 by the Town of Davidson with its G. Jackson Burney Community Service award, which he treasured perhaps even more than the state’s Order of the Long Leaf Pine bestowed on him at the time of his 2006 retirement – because the award from Davidson represented the mutual devotion of a person and his chosen community.
Having no children of his own, Dr. Park leaves many heirs: friends and colleagues, to be sure, but first and foremost the students for whom both colleges and libraries exist. Dr. Clark Ross, former Dean of the Faculty, has described Dr. Park as a “supportive, but candid, adviser and friend” to everyone from entering first-years to experienced presidents.
He advised countless students over the years, either officially or unofficially, and was an enthusiastic supporter of Wildcat basketball. In 2007, a group of alumni whom he had influenced established a scholarship in his name. At least one former advisee gave his son the middle name “Madison” in tribute to Dr. Leland Madison Park.
Park will be remembered as a gateway and a bridge to the institution he loved, whether for students attempting to navigate scholarly life or new staff and faculty enjoying a tour of campus led by one of the few people who could gracefully walk the path between the college’s past and present.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Leland M. Park Scholarship, Davidson College, Box 7170, Davidson, NC 28035-7170, and to St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 115 W. 7th St., Charlotte, NC 28202.
A service to celebrate the life of Leland Park will be held at 4 p.m. in the sanctuary of Davidson College Presbyterian Church on Sunday, February 17, with a reception to follow in the Lilly Family Gallery.