Marye J. Jeffries
Through more than 40 years as an educator, Marye J. Jeffries constantly urged students to set high goals and work hard to meet them.
She knew the approach created a path to success, for it had led the one-time elementary teacher to become the first African-American female Associate Vice-Chancellor of Academic Affairs at Fayetteville State University (FSU).
Born in Victoria, TX, Jeffries attended what is now Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, TX, graduating in 1951 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. She began her teaching career at an integrated elementary school in Tacoma, WA, where her parents were stationed at Fort Lewis military base.
After living for a time in Germany when her husband was deployed with the U.S. Army, Jeffries, her husband and their newborn returned stateside in 1963 and settled in Fayetteville, NC. She taught at Walker Elementary School for a year and then transferred to Vanstory Elementary School, where Jeffries was the first African-American teacher.
“It was quite the experience,” Jeffries said. “During that time, one thing you learned about working in an integrated school was to have patience.”
While at Vanstory, Jeffries completed her master’s degree in education from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). Setting a new goal of a career in higher education, Jeffries accepted an assistant professorship in the School of Education at FSU.
“After one year, it was obvious to move up in higher education, you needed a doctorate,” she said.
So in 1972 Jeffries took an academic leave to return to UNC to complete course work for her doctorate in education. In 1974, while at Chapel Hill, Jeffries was selected to be one of the first women inducted into Phi Delta Kappa International Education Fraternity
Returning to FSU in 1975, Jeffries was appointed Director of FSU’s Early Childhood Learning Center. She received her doctoral degree in education administration and supervision from UNC in 1980 and was appointed Director of FSU’s Weekend-Evening College. She was subsequently appointed Dean of Continuing Education, and, in 1995, appointed Associate Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs, a post she held until her retirement in 1998.
Throughout her career, Jeffries realized that students benefit from a strong connection between local community colleges and four-year universities. She was a member of the Board of Trustees of Fayetteville Technical Community College from 1992-2018, serving as its Chair from 2004-2008, the first African-American woman to hold the position.
Jeffries joined the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority as an undergraduate and, more than a half-century later, remains an active member. Holding many positions in the sorority, she was elected to serve as the organization’s 11th Mid-Atlantic Regional Director. “After college, being in a Greek organization was a significant way to make friends and build connections, especially in a place where you do not know many people,” she said.
Jeffries also served as Chair of the Fayetteville Arts Council and was the first African American woman appointed to what is now Cumberland County’s Civic Center Commission, serving from 1986-2000.
Now in retirement, Jeffries’ commitment to community service continues, as she serves as a member of The Links, Incorporated, an international women’s service organization, and in her church, College Heights Presbyterian Church.
Jeffries’ professional, civic and educational service have earned her numerous awards, including, in 2005, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, and, in 2008, the Old North State Award. In 2011, FSU honored Jeffries as an outstanding Black Woman in American Culture and History in celebration of Black History Month.
By Ashani Smith