Dr. Angela Laird Brenton, former dean of the UALR College of Professional Studies, died May 8, after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 60.
Brenton enjoyed a long and prolific career in higher education. Last August she left UALR to accept a position at Western Carolina University as provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs.
An exemplary communicator, she was passionate about the importance of community engagement and a strong advocate for academic affairs. Always a respected member of her community, she was beloved by faculty and staff.
She led university task forces in addressing significant community, regional and state issues such as water distribution, city transportation planning, juvenile justice reform and health-care reform.
Committed to racial and ethnic justice, Brenton was a founding member of the Chancellor’s Committee on Race and Ethnicity. She played a key leadership role in the Institute of Government Survey Research Center’s annual Racial Attitudes Surveys and conferences. She also was central to the launch of the university’s Institute on Race and Ethnicity.
As dean of the College of Professional Studies at UALR, Brenton oversaw 150 faculty and staff in the college. She had previously served as a faculty member and chair in speech communication.
She developed six centers within the college to serve as a focus for research and community outreach, including the Center for Environmental Criminology, the Center for Senior Justice, the Center for Juvenile Justice, the Center for Stuttering Treatment and Research, the Center for Public Collaboration, and the Center for Nonprofit Organizations.
She also launched a graduate certificate in Conflict Mediation at UALR in cooperation with the William H. Bowen School of Law and was an inaugural faculty member for the Clinton School of Public Service, where she taught a class titled Communication Processes Conflict Transformation.
A gifted grant writer, Brenton was behind $7.7 million in annual grants and contracts for UALR. The grant funding helped raise approximately $7.2 million in endowments and external support for scholarships, research equipment, clinical programs and faculty development.
Jamie Byrne, interim UALR dean of the College of Professional Studies, said Brenton was a longtime friend and mentor who worked hard to build a culture of transparency, collaboration, and collegiality in the college.
“Due in large part to her influence, our faculty and staff value each other and what we create together on a daily basis,” said Byrne. “She was the perfect fit given our metropolitan mission and her service orientation.”
Byrne added that Brenton became a true ally when her late husband was diagnosed with cancer.
“It was Angi who went with me to a grief support group at her church for six weeks after his passing,” Bryne said. “I will always love and be grateful to her for that and for much, much more.”
Brenton was former dean of the graduate school and associate provost for research and service at Abilene Christian University. She also headed the department of communication and mass media at Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State).
Brenton received a doctorate in communication studies from the University of Kansas, a master’s degree in communication from the University of Oklahoma, and bachelor’s degrees in mass communication and speech communication from Oklahoma Christian College. She earned a management and leadership in higher education certificate from the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University.
She also taught at the University of Kansas, Pepperdine University, Abilene Christian University, Southwest Missouri State University and Oklahoma Christian University. She co-authored a book published by Sage entitled Organizational Culture in Action.
A Rotary International member, she was honored as a Paul Harris Fellow, a recognition established in 1957 to show appreciation for, and encourage substantial contributions to, The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International.
The funeral will be at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 11, at Pleasant Valley Church of Christ, 10900 N. Rodney Parham Road, Little Rock. Interment will follow at Riverwood Memorial Gardens, 301 Carnahan Drive, Maumelle, under the direction of Roller-Chenal Funeral Home in Little Rock.