Maravene Loeschke, the former Towson University president who was recalled for her years in theater and as a mentor to students, died Thursday at Gilchrist Hospice Care. She was 68 and had been diagnosed with adrenal cancer last year.
Dr. Loeschke became her alma mater's 13th president in January 2012. With a background in theater and drama, she had an unusual rise to the presidency at Towson, where she had been a student, drama teacher and administrator for 30 years.
She launched several mentoring and leadership programs during her tenure as president.
During an interview with The Baltimore Sun in 2012, she credited her five decades in theater with her success: "Everything ties back to it. Conflict resolution, debate, time management, critical thinking, people skills. I mean, I even know how to use an electric saw."
"Our hearts are broken," said Timothy J.L. Chandler, who became the university's interim president when Dr. Loeschke retired in December because of her health. "Perhaps her greatest gifts to Towson were her warmth and her generosity. They reflected her dedication and love of students."
A university statement described her style as "direct, organized and firm." It also said she "always maintained personal connections with students, faculty, and state and local leaders."
"In her all-too-brief tenure as president of Towson University, Maravene Loeschke led the institution with purpose, dignity and compassion," William "Brit" Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, said in a statement. "Her focus on enhancing opportunities and experiences for students will be her lasting legacy and indelible mark. We applaud her for being such a valuable member of our community, and we will miss her greatly."
Born in Baltimore, Dr. Loeschke was the daughter of Joseph Sheppard, who worked for Baltimore County highways, and Aumelia Shriner Sheppard, a secretary at Towson Elementary School. She grew up on Oak Road in Parkville and later lived on Warwick Drive in Lutherville.
She was a 1965 Parkville High School graduate, where she was cast in a production of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town."
She became an English and theater major at what was then Towson State College, which had only recently set up a theater department. She worked with C. Richard Gillespie, the program's founder, who had recruited students from Parkville. They would later marry.
She earned a bachelor's degree and planned to work as an actor in New York. Mr. Gillespie asked her to take a temporary teaching job at Towson to fill a vacancy.
"I was a business major in the mid-1970s and needed to take an arts course," said Shohreh Kaynama of Timonium. "She was a calm, solid, down-to-earth teacher. She was passionate and a wonderful role model to her students."
Dr. Loeschke remained on the Towson faculty and married Mr. Gillespie in 1981. During the week of her 2012 inauguration, they performed together in "Love Letters."
She became a professor, chaired the theater arts department and was dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication from 1997 to 2002.
"I was a Towson freshman in 1972. She was a young theater professor. Hers was my first class," said David H. Nevins, the former chair of the Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland and former chairman of the Towson Board of Visitors. "She was student-centered and student-focused. When [other] presidents spend time off-campus fundraising and marketing, she got the most enjoyment from her students. She challenged the students to be all they could be."
"Her dedication to students was extraordinary," said Nancy S. Grasmick, the former state superintendent of education. "She was able to tease out the leadership qualities of the students. She was meticulous about setting goals, and she was not movable on issues of integrity. She never recoiled from making a tough decision."
She recalled Dr. Loeschke as a tall and slender woman who was stylish and well groomed.
"She had an incredible smile," said Dr. Grasmick, who was named a Towson University Presidential Scholar during Dr. Loeschke's tenure. "She communicated with people so well. She would melt you."
Dr. Loeschke continued to be involved with mentoring programs at Towson, even after she retired in December. One of her initiatives, the TU Professional Leadership Program for Women, features training for professional women.
Dr. Loeschke's tenure was also marked with controversy. In 2013, she decided to cut the baseball and men's soccer teams to comply with gender-equity rules and to resolve budget issues. Then-Comptroller Peter Franchot called for her resignation. Funds for the baseball team were later reinstated.
"She listened and reacted — and with the help of others, we all arrived at a solution," said James Shea, an attorney and chair of the Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland.
"She was completely invested in Towson. It was a job that was just right for her," Mr. Shea said.
Dr. Loeschke earned her doctorate from the Union Institute in Cincinnati. She studied the use of mime to promote self-expression among blind students.
"Performing is a personal satisfaction that you've used your talent to move somebody," she said in 2012 in a Sun article. "But when you're teaching students and you gently tell them how to improve a scene, and it's so much better when they come back, I don't know that there's anything more rewarding."
She left Towson in 2002 to become provost at Pennsylvania's Wilkes University. She later became president of Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pa., before returning to her alma mater as president.
She recently received the Audrey Herman Award "for her work in expanding arts and theatre across Baltimore." The award was presented by the Spotlighters Theatre.
Plans for a Towson University memorial service are incomplete
Survivors include her husband;; a sister, Ellen Estes of McHenry in Garrett County; and nieces and nephews. Her marriage to Richard Loeschke ended in divorce, although they remained friends.
An earlier version misstated the name of the Audrey Herman Award. The Sun regrets the error.