In Memoriam: Colleagues Recall Kindness of Associate Dean of Students Aaron Laushway

April 11, 2023 By McGregor McCance, McGregor McCance,

Friends and former colleagues are sharing memories this week of the kindness, grace and good humor that were among the many endearing traits of former Associate Dean of Students Aaron Laushway, who died on Sunday at the age of 71.

Laushway retired in 2020 after a 24-year career at the University of Virginia, where he provided a highly personalized approach to his work in many student affairs roles across the Office of the Dean of Students. He had suffered a heart attack in January and spent his final days in hospice care, surrounded by close friends and family members, including his husband, Curtis Creech.

And for Laushway, there was never a lack of friends and friendships. Always outgoing and rarely without a wide smile and a playful laugh on display, friends said he channeled his love for UVA through his work and for the benefit of students with whom he built respectful and helping relationships.

“Aaron Laushway embodied a love of this special institution and, more important, of its students,” said Allen Groves, former UVA dean of students and currently senior vice president and chief student experience officer at Syracuse University. 

Groves said Laushway thoughtfully advised fraternities and sororities for years, “helping them flourish in all the right ways,” and could be seen wearing the orange Converse sneakers to Old Cabell Hall performances of the Virginia Gentlemen a cappella group, who gave him the shoes in appreciation of his decades of support.

“He walked the Lawn each morning and evening with his dog, Sarah Mae, talking with students and inhabiting a space he viewed as uniquely special in higher education,” Groves said. “Aaron was a true University citizen in every sense of the word, and we were all better for having known him.”

President Emeritus John T. Casteen III recalled the “easy pleasantness of simply walking around with him.” They might share moments talking as they walked briefly across Grounds before heading in separate directions to do their day’s work.

“He was deliberate in his speech, discreet about students and their interests, sympathetic in what he said about colleagues and students,” Casteen said.

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Candid of Aaron Laushway at Final Exercies
Laushway, shown at 2016 Final Exercises, relished traditions and moments that distinguished the University of Virginia. He directed student “traffic” during graduation ceremonies with a constant smile. (Contributed photo)

In announcing Laushway’s pending retirement in 2020 to Student Affairs colleagues, then-Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer Patricia M. Lampkin lauded Laushway for his devotion to students and their development.

“He has established relationships with thousands of students as they grappled with challenges of college life, took risks, grew, excelled, and became the adults they are today,” Lampkin wrote. “Aaron has been a dear mentor, confidante, and friend to so many of the students who have passed through UVA. He has seen himself as a ‘connector.’ We can indeed thank him for bringing people together, helping them to be their best selves, and sharing of himself in countless ways.”

Among his many duties and roles over the years at UVA, Laushway was responsible for Fraternity & Sorority Life; advised the Second- and Third-Year Councils and Fourth-Year Trustees; managed the dean-on-call system; served as liaison to United Ministries; supported transfer students and undergraduate veterans; spearheaded the Academic Convocation on the Lawn for graduate and professional students; and more. He served as faculty fellow at Hereford Residential College for nearly 20 years.

Laushway received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award in 2014 for his contributions to student life at UVA, as well as numerous other accolades and honorary memberships in student-run organizations and programs. He also was a member of the Raven Society.

He earned his undergraduate degree in cultural anthropology and sociology from Providence College, and a Baccalaureate and Licentiate of Systemic Theology from the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., and went on to earn both a master’s degree and a doctorate in counseling from UVA. Laushway also was a Merrill Fellow in Theology & Pastoral Ministry at Harvard University.

From the late 1980s to mid 1990s, he served as the prior at St. Mary’s in the Yale University parish. Laushway returned to UVA in 1996 as assistant dean of student affairs and, later, was founding director of the Fraternity & Sorority Life office.

Marsh Pattie, associate vice president in the Division of Student Affairs, was Laushway’s first graduate assistant in that new office. He recalled fondly that Laushway supported him through that position and through graduate school, and 11 years later, guided Pattie again when he joined the Dean of Students’ office.

In short, Laushway once again was serving as a connector.

Aaron Laushway with many students, faculty, and staff out side the Rotunda wearing red “Love is Love” shirts
A supporter of many student organizations and programs, including the “Love is Love” initiative that celebrates LGBTQ students, Laushway, shown lower right with one of his dogs, earned repeated recognition for student advocacy. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

“I could tell him anything and he would listen without judgment, always with kindness, and a wisdom that seemed endless,” Pattie said. “He did the same for generations of students, standing beside them in their most difficult moments while also helping them take responsibility and learn from their mistakes. His presence was deeply felt here, and his memory will forever be part of the University’s fabric.” 

His death prompted a gusher of emotions and memories online, where some 250 people added their thoughts and memories of Laushway on Creech’s Facebook post announcing his husband’s death. Some recalled specific events. Others pointed to his devotion to helping people feel welcome at UVA, or his constant presence at events in support of students or colleagues, or his deep affection to his dogs.

The responses “are a true testament to Aaron’s loving impact at the University,” Creech said in an email to UVA Today.

Creech recalled Laushway getting up in the middle of the night “on countless occasions” to help a student who was in crisis or had made a mistake and found himself in trouble.

“He never, EVER, said even one cross word or grumbled in the slightest,” Creech said. “In fact, I cannot remember a complaint about anyone … not even in the safety and confidentiality of our marriage.” 

One of his close friends, former Associate Vice President for Public Affairs Carol S. Wood, was among those who kept Laushway company during his weeks in hospice. Wood this week recalled Laushway’s special skill of guiding students through academic and personal issues, with those same students later writing him letters of gratitude.

“Most importantly, he was a champion of the University values of honor, integrity, civility, student self-governance, academic rigor and diversity,” Wood said. “He was a vocal supporter of building a community of caring that would extend to all students. He whole-heartedly embraced diversity and equity and was among the most welcoming to students – as well as staff and faculty – who were in the minority and might have found the University a difficult place in which to succeed. He encouraged that their voices be heard.” 

Funeral services will be held April 28, at 10 a.m., at St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish. 

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McGregor McCance

Darden School of Business Executive Editor