Mary Louise “Louise” McBee, a principled, respected, and effective University of Georgia administrator and state legislator, died on Tuesday, March 2 at the age of 96.
Widely admired, McBee was one of UGA’s most esteemed officials in a period of significant growth and change. She came to UGA in 1963 as dean of women and worked under four university presidents before retiring in 1988 as acting vice president for academic affairs, the second-highest position at UGA at the time. She also held appointments as associate professor of psychology and associate professor of higher education.
McBee served in the highest positions at UGA in both student affairs and academic affairs—a rarity in university administration—and was a favorite of students and faculty for her accessibility and fair approach to challenging situations. The University System Board of Regents later named McBee vice president emeritus for academic affairs, and UGA recognized her extraordinary legacy in 2018 by unveiling her portrait in the UGA Administration Building.
“Dr. McBee was an extraordinary person and exceptional UGA leader,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “Her portrait in the Administration Building is a constant reminder of the thoughtful and dedicated service she provided to the institution and the Athens community. She will be missed.”
McBee was known for her pragmatic approach, commanding grasp of all issues, and integrity. She also had a compassionate and nurturing leadership style, regularly listening to students and faculty to address their concerns. She was a role model and mentor for women working at the University and worked throughout her career to expand opportunities for women in higher education. She also chaired the committee that led to UGA implementing Title IX, which provided additional support for female athletes.
UGA created the Louise McBee Professorship of Higher Education, housed in the Institute of Higher Education, and established the annual Louise McBee Lecture, which brings national educational leaders to campus to discuss current issues in education, in her honor. UGA also presents the Louise McBee Scholar Award.
“Dr. McBee was a role model for generations of students and faculty in Georgia and beyond,” said Libby V. Morris, director of the Institute of Higher Education and Zell B. Miller Distinguished Professor of Higher Education. “Across her career, she was widely regarded as one of the most effective and influential women in Georgia politics and higher education. She led with integrity and challenged all whom she met to make a difference and give back.”
As a six-term member of the Georgia House of Representatives from 1992 to 2004, McBee used her experiences at UGA to help set state higher education policy. Among her legislative responsibilities, she was chair of the House Higher Education Committee and vice chair of the Retirement Committee. McBee was key to establishing the successful Governor’s Teaching Fellows Program. She championed a bill that allowed teachers and University System employees to count their unused sick leave as service creditable toward retirement, and she helped to ensure the financial stability of the HOPE Scholarship. McBee also worked to strengthen the school breakfast program for low-income children.
Education was the centerpiece of her life’s work. She was fond of saying that education is “job one” in Georgia, adding that “Education is to the state what defense is to the federal government. This state will never be any better than what we do for education.”
McBee was a highly engaged member of the Athens community for nearly six decades, leading and serving civic, philanthropic and religious organizations. A mentor at Clarke Middle School and a trustee of First United Methodist Church, she was a member of the Athens-Clarke County Charter Commission and the Athens-Clarke County Hospital Authority. She served on the board of directors of the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Northeast Georgia, and the Salvation Army, among many other boards.
In recognition of her devoted service, McBee received the Athena Award from the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce, the 1976 Athens Woman of the Year, and in 1997 was named the Woman of Distinction by the Northeast Georgia Girl Scout Council. She was the first honorary member of the Athens Junior League.
A native of the small eastern Tennessee farming town of Strawberry Plains, McBee graduated from East Tennessee State University and worked for 11 years as assistant dean of women and dean of women, taking a year off to teach English in a girls’ high school in Holland through a Fulbright Fellowship. She also earned a master’s degree in counseling and student personnel administration at Columbia University and a doctorate in counseling and psychology at Ohio State University.
McBee received numerous statewide honors for her remarkable service. In 2006, she became the second recipient of the Elridge McMillan Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by the Board of Regents for excellence in service to the University System. She was the first elected official to receive the Governor’s Award in the Humanities in 2002 for her role in helping establish UGA’s Women’s Studies Program and the Center for Humanities and the Arts.
Other honors include the Outstanding Legislator Award from the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, Georgia General Assembly Women’s Legislative Caucus Leadership Award, the Georgia Hospital Association Legislative Leadership Award, Thomas Murphy Good Heart Legislator’s Award; the Georgia Municipal Association Legislative Service Award, the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia Legislative Award, and the Legislator of the Year by the Northeast Georgia Aging Services Advisory Council, among many other awards.
“We are born obligated to pour back into the stream that nourished us—to replenish it for others,” McBee once said. “To the extent that we do that, we have lived a good and full life.”
—Written by Larry B. Dendy and edited by Kristen Linthicum