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Longtime Delaware Tech president dies at 78

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Dr. Orlando J. George, Jr., "Lonnie"

Former longtime Delaware Technical Community College President Orlando J. George, Jr., “Lonnie,” died Monday, May 27, at 78 years old. l PHOTO COURTESY OF DTCC

WILMINGTON — Longtime Delaware Tech president and legislator for the First State Dr. Orlando J. George, Jr., affectionately known as Lonnie to many, died on Monday surrounded by family at the age of 78.

As the first in his family to graduate from college, learning and sharing the love of education became a lifelong mission for George. Although he grew up in Wilmington, his grandparents hailed from Italy, immigrating to the United States to offer their family a better life, according to his obituary. It would be a chance George wouldn’t take lightly.

He attended grade school through the Christ our King parish in Wilmington and later, Salesianum High School, graduating in 1963. His obituary states that he then received a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics, a master’s in Education and a doctorate of education, all from the University of Delaware.

Over time, George not only wanted to continue his family’s legacy, but he wanted to lead Delaware to a better future, as well. Colleagues and fellow leaders voiced their sadness of his passing by sharing his many accomplishments toward that very goal.

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Orlando George Jr., known up and down Delaware as Lonnie George,” U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said in a prepared statement.

“You cannot overstate the importance of Lonnie’s impact on [DTCC] – how he helped the school lift the Delaware economy and reinforce the First State’s workforce,” Coons added. If I knew nothing else of Lonnie, I knew how deeply he loved Delaware and the people in it. His selfless service to our state every day should be a model and inspiration to us all.”

George served on the Wilmington City Council and in the Delaware House of Representatives. All told, George spent 21 years in Delaware legislature representing the 1st representative district beginning in 1974, including turns as House Speaker and chairman of the Joint Finance Committee. His daughter Melanie would later follow in his footsteps representing the 5th representative district.

During his time in office, George also worked his way up in rank at Delaware Tech (DTCC). He started as a mathematics instructor in 1969 just two years after the first DTCC campus opened through legislative measures – Georgetown’s Owens Campus as it is now known. DTCC first opened with 375 students taught out of classrooms in Wilmington. Today, DTCC has 15,943 students across its four campuses across the state.

He quickly moved up to the role of department chair and, from there, the sky was the limit for George.

Gov. John Carney said that he and his wife, Tracey, were saddened to hear of George’s passing, noting his long resume in public service and as a true Wilmington success story.

“A Wilmington native with a strong Italian heritage, Lonnie became the first in his family to attend college. He understood the value of a strong education and dedicated his career to making sure young people had the opportunity to succeed,” Carney said. “[As chair of JFC] he navigated challenging financial times for the state. He passed along this commitment to public service to his daughter, Representative Melanie George Smith, who later took on his role as co-chair of JFC. Most importantly, Lonnie was a devoted husband, father, and grandfather. Our hearts go out to Lonnie’s friends and family. His legacy will be found in every corner of the state for generations to come.”

He became the assistant to the Wilmington campus director in 1980, followed by roles such as dean of instruction, assistant campus director, vice president and campus director. George was named the fourth president of the community college in 1995 and retired 19 years later in 2014.

Current State House Minority Leader Mike Ramone and State House Minority Whip Lyndon Yearick released a statement to DBT, saying, “Lonnie George was a dedicated leader and public servant. He spent over 20 years in the House of Representatives, where he also served as Speaker. After his time in politics, he led [DTCC] for almost two decades, working on the development of its facilities, programs, and services. The college’s Wilmington Campus was named in his honor in recognition of his contributions. Mr. George’s distinguished legacy of service will not soon be forgotten.”

Current DTCC President Dr. Mark Brainard worked with George closely over the years and expressed his condolences for this loss. George hired Brainard in 1996 as the college’s first assistant vice president for personnel and legal affairs.

“The Delaware Tech community is deeply saddened to learn today of the passing of Dr. George,” Brainard said in a prepared statement. “During his distinguished 45-year career at the college, he expanded access for our students, enhanced the quality of our programs, and built a foundation for continued growth that will benefit Delaware Tech students for many years to come. Lonnie was a loyal friend, a great mentor and a fierce advocate for Delaware Tech.  He will truly be missed by many.”

Along with his accomplishments, George received many honors along the way, including Delaware’s highest accolade – the Order of the First State presented to him by now-former Governor Jack Markell. The Wilmington campus was also named after his legacy. He was also honored with DTCC’s most prestigious award – the Paul K. Weatherly Award Recognizing Excellence presented by the Board of Trustees. Likewise, the college received many awards under his leadership, as well. 

DTCC would also see its financial aid opportunities grow by more than eight times from the time he started as president to his retirement, growing from $4.5 million to more than $37 million, according to a 2014 article by the Cape Gazette. Under his leadership, the college expanded its transfer agreements with four-year institutions from 10 to 144 as well as grew its accredited programs from 13 to 64. The community college’s foundation also quadrupled its assets from $5 million to more than $20 million.

By the time George retired, he was named as one of the highest paid state employees in Delaware, earning a six-figure salary. 

George was so committed to furthering his mission, and that of the college, that he served on many boards throughout the state during his tenure which are outlined in his obituary. Some of those boards include the Delaware Business Roundtable, Governor’s Information Technology Task Force and Communities in Schools – a high school dropout prevention and recovery program. 

He and his wife are now also recognized on DTCC’s website as a Legacy Society member, or someone who contributed more than $50,000 in lifetime gifts to the college “or have announced their intention to leave a gift to the college through various estate planning vehicles.” Donations have been requested in remembrance of George through the Orlando J. George, Jr. and Linda K. George Endowed Scholarship Fund which helps fund academic merit scholarships for full-time students with at least 15 credits at DTCC.

“Dr. George made a lasting impact on Delaware Tech and the lives of its students during his 45 years at the College,” Chairman of the Delaware Tech Board of Trustees Nancy J. Shevock said in a prepared statement. “The College’s Board of Trustees greatly appreciates the legacy he leaves behind for our students, and we express our sincerest condolences to the George family on their tremendous loss.”

A viewing for family and friends will be held on June 3 from 4-8 p.m., at the Carriage House at Rockwood with courtesy valet parking. His burial will be privately held. A celebration of life will be held on June 6 from 5-7 p.m. at the Orlando J. George, Jr. campus in Wilmington.

George is survived by his wife, Linda, and four daughters: Melanie, Leana, Natalie, and Olivia.

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