Former Palm Beach State College President Edward Eissey shepherded the county’s largest institution of higher learning from a junior college to a community college, expanding its campuses, staff, student body and curriculum.
Eissey died Thursday. He was 89.
Just about anyone connected with the school crossed paths with Eissey as schoolteacher, principal, college trustee or president, a post he held from 1978-1996.
“Palm Beach State would not be what it is today without the vision and dedication of Dr. Eissey,” said the school’s current president, Ava Parker. “He pioneered the pathway we continue to build upon; that is to make higher education accessible to every citizen of Palm Beach County.”
With a talent for securing money for the college, during his tenure Eissey established the Boca Raton and Palm Beach Gardens campuses, drove the expansion of the Belle Glade satellite school and increased the student body from 8,000 to 51,000.
“Without any doubt, he left his mark on the institution,” Eissey’s successor, Dennis Gallon, said Friday.
The Palm Beach Gardens campus in 1990 was renamed the Edward M. Eissey Campus, and the theater there also bears his name.
An outgoing and garrulous man, Gallon said of Eissey: “I don’t think he ever met a stranger.”
“When I think of Dr. Eissey, literally, he brings a smile to my face,” said Palm Beach School Board member Barbara McQuinn. “He had a tremendous sense of humor and a real zest for life. When I think of him I think caring and gentle.”
But to some, he was a tenacious go-getter with a knack for controversy. His judgment and his unabashed, and what some described as an imposing, top-down management style, came under fire.
“He’s a pit bull. He grabs an issue,” former state Rep. Ray Liberti, one-time chairman of the House Higher Education committee, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in 1996.
The son of a Lebanese immigrant, Eissey rose through the ranks of the local public school system. He was a graduate of Palm Beach Gardens High School and the school he would one day preside over.
Prior to retirement, Eissey offered this advice to the next in line: “Take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously.”