Flamboyant. Controversial. Caring.

That was Vera King Farris - the longest-serving president of The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

Farris, who died Saturday after a brief illness, led the college for 20 years, from 1983 to 2003.

Stockton was just 10 years old when she took over. Under her leadership, the school went from being a tiny state college that few people had ever heard of to a highly popular - and increasingly selective - public institution with a stellar reputation.

Farris was responsible for the founding of the Sara & Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center at the college - and established the Ida E. King chair in Holocaust studies in memory of her mother.

That's the way Farris operated - her personal history, her personal style, were always intertwined with her professional career.

She became a college president, but she grew up poor in Atlantic City and never stopped being a role model for other disadvantaged youths.

She was a scientist - with advanced degrees in zoology and parasitology from the Tuskegee Institute and the University of Massachusetts. But she wore flamboyant hats.

And yes, she had her controversies. Her relationship with the faculty was rocky at times. But Stockton didn't just grow under her leadership - it thrived. And her smile, her warmth and her powerful personality had a lot to do with that.

You always knew when Vera King Farris was in the room.

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