News Release: VSU
VALDOSTA — Valdosta State University mourns the passing of Ahleida Joan Seever Bailey, beloved former first lady who was the heart of the campus community for 23 years. She was preceded in death by her husband, Dr. Hugh C. Bailey, who served as president of the university from 1978 to 2001 and passed away on Oct. 5, 2012.
“Mrs. Bailey's life is truly one worthy of celebration and thanks. Her ethic of service set an example for all of us, both on and off campus,” said VSU President William J. McKinney. “Dacia and I count getting to know Mrs. Bailey among the highlights of our first two years in Valdosta. We will always be thankful for her love and unconditional support, and are two among many who will miss her very much.”
Joan leaves behind a legacy of changing lives with just a kind word or gesture. Over the years, she made a difference in the lives of tens of thousands of individuals, from incoming freshman to graduating seniors, young children to state leaders. She cared for everyone she met in a meaningful, personal way.
Joan and Hugh met at Samford University in the fall of 1958. She was a freshman; he was her history professor. She had his attention immediately, from the moment she walked into his classroom and sat on the front row. What he did not know, but later discovered, was that she was equally smitten. He waited nearly four years, till March of her senior year, to ask her on a date, and they went out for ice cream. A few weeks later, in May 1962, he asked her to marry him, promising to love and care for her for the rest of his life. They married Nov. 17, 1962, in Mobile, Ala., at her father’s church.
At the time of his death in October 2012, Joan and Hugh had been married for nearly 50 years.
“I think sharing each other’s views on life and understanding each other is how we have gotten along so well,” she told The Valdosta Daily Times in June 2001.
At that time, his response was, “She is very thoughtful. I was enthralled by her back then and still am today. I have never known anyone quite like her. I am her greatest admirer.”
The Baileys, including two daughters, Debra Jane and Laura Joan, who were 9 and 8 years of age, respectively, at the time, arrived at what was then known as Valdosta State College on July 1, 1978. The family was the last to live in the President’s House, now known as the Honors College, at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Oak Street.
For 23 years, Joan supported Hugh as he set forth a vision for Valdosta State that led to increased academic standards and enrollment, new degrees at the graduate level, millions of dollars in new construction and renovation projects, the formation of the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra, an expansion of educational technology and distance learning, Valdosta State College becoming Valdosta State University in 1993, and so much more. She organized special events and hosted social occasions in her home, greeted visitors to the campus, and made sure faculty, staff, and students knew how valuable they were to the university community — and she knew everyone’s name. She lived a life of service to her family, to Valdosta State, and to the community. No task was too small for her to tackle, and she did it all with grace and an eye for detail and beauty.
After her husband retirement, Joan continued serving others, most recently with the Community Depot, a nonprofit organization that raises awareness and funds for the local chapters of the American Red Cross, Easter Seals, and the Humane Society. In 2013, that center, located at 1602 N. Ashley St., was officially named the Joan Bailey Community Depot in recognition of her tireless efforts to better the community.
Joan was born to Harold W. Seever, pastor of Dauphin Way Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala., and Ahleida B. Seever, a florist with an eye for design who taught her daughter how to make things beautiful. After graduating from Samford University, marrying, and starting a family, she went on to earn a master’s degree in history and used that knowledge to help Hugh conduct research for five books on southern politicians. In 2010, she published “A Walk with God,” a series of meditations which she wrote and illustrated.