BETHANY, W.Va. – The Bethany community is mourning the passing of former College President Cecil H. Underwood. A two-time Governor of the state of West Virginia, Underwood served the College as Bethany’s 13th President. He died Monday, Nov. 24 at the age of 86 in the Charleston (W.Va.) Area Medical Center.
Underwood became the 13th president of Bethany College in July 1972, succeeding Perry E. Gresham. During Underwood’s tenure at Bethany, he oversaw the establishment of the College’s first academic computer center and the first continuing education program. He also authorized the implementation of an affirmative action plan and urged the adoption of a staff sabbatical policy. Underwood left Bethany in 1975 to run for Governor.
A native of Josephs Mills, W.Va., Underwood earned his bachelor’s degree at Salem College in 1943 and received a master’s degree from West Virginia University in 1952. He was a high school teacher in St. Marys, W.Va. from 1943-46 and taught at Marietta (Ohio) College from 1946-50 before spending six years as President of Salem College. Underwood left Salem in 1956 when he was elected to his first term as governor.
Underwood had entered politics at the age of 22 when he was elected to the first of six two-year terms as a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates. He made history in 1956 when he became the youngest person ever elected governor in West Virginia. Forty years later — on his 74th birthday — Underwood made history again when he became the oldest person ever elected governor of any state.
Underwood is also remembered as an excellent businessman. Prior to coming to Bethany College, he worked as an executive with Island Creek Coal and Monsanto Chemical. He was also associated with the Software Valley Corporation of Morgantown, W.Va. In addition to his presidencies at Bethany and Salem, Underwood was a Political Science instructor at Marshall University and served as President of the National Association of State Councils on Vocational Education.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday, Dec. 1 at Christ United Methodist Church in Charleston. Underwood is survived by his son, Craig; two daughters, Cecilia and Sharon; and five grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife, Hovah, in 2004.
Bethany College is a small college of national distinction located on a picturesque and historic 1,300-acre campus in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia. Founded in 1840, Bethany is the state’s oldest private college.