Jennings Wagoner Remembered as ‘Foundational’ Presence at Curry School

February 03, 2013

Jennings Lee Wagoner Jr., emeritus professor of education at the University of Virginia, died Jan. 27 at his home in Ivy.

He joined the U.Va. faculty in 1968 at the start of what would be a distinguished career as scholar, teacher, mentor and colleague. During his 37-year tenure, he touched many lives as he directed more than 50 dissertations and eventually held the William C. Parrish Jr. Professorship.

While serving on the faculty at the Curry School of Education, he received numerous awards and recognitions including the Curry Outstanding Professor Award, the U.Va. Alumni Association’s Distinguished Professor Award, the Raven Society’s Faculty Award and Phi Delta Kappa’s Distinguished Service Award.

He served in the University’s Faculty Senate for many years, was the Senate representative to the ROTC Committee and was a member of numerous other committees and councils at the University. He served for 10 years as director of the Center for the Study of Higher Education and for 12 years as chair of the Department of Educational Foundations and Policy Studies.

“In many ways visible and not so visible, Jennings Wagoner was absolutely foundational to the current success of the Curry School of Education and its reputation for excellence,” Curry School Dean Robert C. Pianta said. “His presence at Curry brought to the school, the University and the Charlottesville community, generations of extraordinary students and cohorts of faculty members who enriched academic life at the University. He was truly an extraordinary educator and person.”

Wagoner made a noticeable impression on the lives of those around him, who couldn’t help but leave an interaction inspired. He was loved and admired among friends and colleagues.

“With his notable breadth of knowledge and delightful gift of storytelling, Dr. Wagoner instilled in his students Mr. Jefferson's purpose for our university and inspired us with the ideal of higher education in America,” said Lorri Cooper, who earned an Ed.D, from Curry in 1998. “As emerging scholars, he graciously offered encouragement, guidance and time as we completed dissertations and graduated.” 

Wagoner was also known for staying in touch with his students as they moved on from the University, mentoring dozens of graduates through the early stages of their careers.

On a hot September day in 2001, Wagoner extended true hospitality and friendship by offering to take a new faculty member on a tour of the University. The memory of that tour will forever resonate with Stephanie van Hover, associate professor at the Curry School.

“He talked about the history and background of the Lawn, told stories about the Rotunda, and showed me innumerable hidden statues of Jefferson (and told the backstory of each one),” she said. “It was a lovely day spent in the presence of a gentleman scholar. I have such fond memories of that morning, and he is a reason I felt so welcomed when I first arrived.”

Born in Winston-Salem, N.C. in 1938, Wagoner is survived by his wife of 50 years, Shirley C. Wagoner; two sons, David C. Wagoner and his wife Jennifer of Keswick, and Brian J. Wagoner and his wife Katherine of North Hollywood, Calif.; a brother, William O. Wagoner and his wife, Carolyn, of Earlysville; and four grandchildren, Morgan, Caroline, Katherine and Will.

Wagoner began his journey in education at Mars Hill College, where he earned an associate’s degree in 1958, and continued at Wake Forest College (B.A. ’60) and Duke University (M.A.T. ’61) before earning a Ph.D. at The Ohio State University in 1968.