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Remembering Erma Johnson Hadley, Tarrant County College Chancellor

Rodger Mallison
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Erma Johnson Hadley, center, in 2010, when she was named chancellor of the Tarrant County College system.

Erma Johnson Hadley, the first woman and African-American to lead Tarrant County College, has died.

Hadley, 73, died Thursday of pancreatic cancer, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports.

Hadley was a founding faculty member of Tarrant County College, beginning her career in 1968. In 2010, she became the college’s fourth chancellor.

“Mrs. Hadley oversaw its steady growth,” the Star-Telegram reports. “Under her leadership, TCC’s enrollment grew to 57,424 last fall, an increase of 26.7 percent from the fall of 2008. On her watch, TCC opened an aviation learning center at Alliance Airport and more recently, an innovative energy technology school at its south campus.”

“Erma was laser-focused on the students we serve,” Tarrant County College Board President Louise Applemansaid in a message sent to faculty and staff Thursday. “Every decision she made was driven by her deep desire to provide access to higher education for our community and for that education to pave a path to success in today’s workforce. We will miss her terribly and I personally have lost a dear friend.”

Erma Johnson Hadley grew up in Legget, in East Texas. It was a small town, and she was the first African American from her high school to go to college. She went on to get an MBA, and spent her career in education.

“When her mother would walk her older sister to school in the mornings, and she was like 3, she would cry because she wanted to stay,” says Gwen Morrison, a longtime friend and  trustee for the Tarrant County community college district. "So she always wanted to learn.”

Morrison says they bonded over their shared love of education. For both of them, it was a transformational force. And that’s what drove Johnson Hadley to make sure everyone could benefit from it like she did.

“It’s that commitment to make certain not only that educational opportunities are there for everybody, but that people feel comfortable getting engaged in that opportunity,” Morrison says.

Johnson Hadley started at TCC in 1968 as a business professor, teaching classes at the newly established Northeast campus. In a video produced by KERA, you can hear her passion for the job.

“I was having the time of my life. Because I was teaching so much more than my subject matter. I was teaching about black people, I was teaching them about getting along. And my students were very receptive. So we had kind of a love affair going on,” she recalled.

So when she was asked to move into the administration, she wasn’t sure – leave the classroom behind?

“And my husband said just think of the number of people you can impact at the district office versus what you’re impacting in the classroom. And I said OK,” she said.

Bill Lace says she made a huge impact. He’s a retired vice chancellor at TCC. First in the personel department, bringing talented faculty to the system. As Chancellor, he says, Johnson Hadley inherited a school that was in something of a rut, and refocused on rigor and service to students.

“She pulled, pushed, maybe even badgered, and Tarrant County started to move. And she had this laser focus on student success.”

Lace says he can’t imagine a Tarrant County College without Erma Johnson Hadley. 

TCC names acting chancellor

The Tarrant County College Board of Trustees on Thursday named Angela Robinson, TCC vice chancellor, as acting chancellor. Robinson will continue her duties as general counsel and will not be a candidate for the chancellor position, the college says in a statement. 

'Texas Trailblazer'

In 2014, KERA featured Hadley in a series called “Texas Trailblazer.”

About Hadley

Here’s how KERA described her in the “Texas Trailblazer” series:

Erma Johnson Hadley is the Chancellor for the Tarrant County College District, the first woman and first African American chancellor of TCC. She has been with the district for more than 40 years as a faculty member and administrator. During her tenure on the Tarrant County College faculty, she was voted "Outstanding Teacher." Chancellor Hadley grew up in the small southeast Texas logging town of Leggett in the era of legal segregation, and has dedicated her life and career to changing lives through education. She was inducted into the Texas Women's Hall of Fame in 2010.

Photo: Rodger Mallison/Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Eric Aasen is KERA’s managing editor. He helps lead the station's news department, including radio and digital reporters, producers and newscasters. He also oversees, the station’s news website, and manages the station's digital news projects. He reports and writes stories for the website and contributes pieces to KERA radio. He's discussed breaking news live on various public radio programs, including The Takeaway, Here & Now and Texas Standard, as well as radio and TV programs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.