Remembering Ted DeLaney

Washington and Lee says goodbye to a janitor-turned-professor who left an indelible mark on the university

Ted DeLaney, history professor and Washington and Lee alumnus, died Dec. 18. He was 77.

Professor Ted DeLaney outside his office in Newcomb Hall. File photo by Hannah Denham, ’20.

“During his career at W&L, Ted worked tirelessly to make the school a more welcoming and inclusive environment,” said university President William Dudley in an email Friday. 

DeLaney graduated from Washington and Lee in 1985, but was a part of the campus community long before then. 

The Lexington native began working as a janitor at the university in 1963. He enrolled in his first class in 1979 and graduated at the age of 42, said the email. 

Students remember DeLaney for how much he cared about their education and wellbeing. The Ring-Tum Phi asked members of the Washington and Lee community what they remember most about him. 

Stanton Geyer, ‘20, said Delaney always checked in with him about other students. 

“Even nearing retirement, DeLaney always wanted to know how best to engage students and activate their inner creativity and proclivity for historical critique,” Geyer said. 

Sam Bluestone, ‘22, said DeLaney often tried to convince him to be a history major when they saw each other outside of class. 

“Also, the bow ties and his style were impeccable,” Bluestone said. 

Michael McLaughlin, ‘23, said he remembers “seeing him at student Mass every Sunday.” 

The janitor-turned-student began teaching at Washington and Lee in 1991 and became a full-time faculty member in 1995. He retired in 2019. 

His legacy at Washington and Lee included co-founding the Africana Studies program in 2005. He often taught courses on “colonial North America, comparative slavery in the Western Hemisphere, African American history, civil rights, and gay and lesbian history,” said the email. “His popular Spring Term class about the civil rights movement took students on the path of the Freedom Riders through the South.”

In his personal studies, he focused on “the untold stories of African Americans in Virginia,” including research on John Chavis, a graduate of Washington and Lee and the first known African American to receive a college education in the United States. 

“He offered essential courses in the histories of the disadvantaged, the dispossessed and the oppressed. Well before it was part of the Strategic Plan, Ted valued both inclusiveness and diversity in his courses,” said the history department in De:aney’s retirement citation. 

DeLaney is survived by his wife, Patricia; their son, Damien Paul DeLaney ’03L, and his wife, Kara; and two grandchildren, Stella and Wyattm, said the email. 

The email said that rather than flowers, DeLaney requested contributions to the Theodore C. DeLaney Scholarship Endowment,  the Ted DeLaney Youth Opportunity Grant, or the Ted DeLaney Preservation Fund of Evergreen Cemetery through Historic Lexington Foundation. 

Molly Michelmore, the history department chair, said Delaney made Washington and Lee feel like home. 

“He was a trusted colleague, whose counsel — about history, about students, about life — I always sought. He loved W&L — enough to understand and point out where we failed to live up to our own principles.”