Skip to content Menu

Remembering Susan Whealler Johnston

We welcome your thoughts and condolences.

Susan Whealler Johnston, Ph.D., passed away on August 12 and leaves a legacy focused on student success and inclusion for all. Since her passing, many of you have shared your memories, thoughts and feelings about Susan. One thing they all have in common — from personal friends to colleagues — is how they’ve been touched by her grace, gratitude, future-focused thinking, and compassion. You can view some of these messages here. And share your own at

To learn more about Susan's leadership at NACUBO visit the President's Corner here.

 I am saddened to learn about Susan’s demise. I’m writing from Nairobi, Kenya. Susan welcomed me warmly at my first ever Annual Conference for Trustees and Board Professionals that was held at the Hyatt Embarcadero in San Francisco (2013). 

She was quite knowledgeable on matters governance, fundraising and many other issues related to fundraising. I will miss reading her insightful articles.

May her soul rest in perfect peace.

I pray that the Lord grant succor and peace to her nearest and dearest. 

My very best wishes,
Helen Ambasa 

I only got to know Susan recently.  I watched her compassionate and dedicated leadership inform everything she did at NACUBO.  As a member, I was always struck by her thoughtful insights and the kind and caring way she interacted with others. 

Some say we will be remembered for how we interacted with others more so then what we accomplished.  On both counts, Susan will be fondly remembered.


Ellen Herbst
Senior Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance, University System of Maryland

First, I am so sorry to each and every one of you at NACUBO, because I am sure Susan touched your heart in a personal way.
So as I sit here to try to write something wonderful about Susan, it make me realize that she won’t be here to listen throughout the “conversation” and make all that we would all say about her crisper, more poignant, more brilliant as she summed up the conversation as she usually would in a meeting.  We have to do it ourselves, but she is worth this effort…
Susan was the epitome of grace, elegance, thoughtfulness and class.  She was fierce in her quiet, understated way.  I often noted how she so elegantly showed you how brilliant she was and did so in such a lovely way.  I was always impressed with her and inspired by her.  She was a trailblazer for women.  I looked up to her and always felt so lucky to be in her presence.  She was someone who always made your day, conversation, or event better.  I hope we can all be inspired by Susan to try to carry that spirit of excellence, kindness, class and elegance forward.  Someone remarked that she will never know how many lives she touched, and I agree wholeheartedly.
All the best,
Nicole Wellmann Kraus
Managing Director, Chief Client Officer, Strategic Investment Group


Being a part of Susan’s leadership team at NACUBO has been a true highlight of my career. This loss is heartbreaking. Indeed, my memory of her and experience working for her is a blessing. Susan was an extraordinary force who found a way to demand excellence—and to define it not just by achievement, but with perspective, engagement, and inclusivity, with data and evidence, and with a constant requirement to imagine how we will live, work, and educate in the future. Susan was generous with her wisdom and we will continue to use what we learned from her to fuel our lights as we carry on. 

Liz Clark
Vice President, Policy and Research, NACUBO


Dr. Whealler—which is how I knew her as a student—was one of the biggest influences in my life.  Of course, I liked her even more once she got a cool new last name and joined the clan.  Fundamentally, she cared about her students and wanted them to succeed.  She helped me tremendously in college.  And I am absolutely certain that I would not have become a federal judge without her help and influence.   Her passing is a devastating loss.  My thoughts go out to her family and all of her friends and former students.  Peace.  

Iain D. Johnston
U.S. Judge, United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois

I served with Susan on the Rollins College board of trustees and was amazed at her poise, astute knowledge of academia, governance strategy, and compassion for eternal learning in her own life and her life's work. Susan will be sorely missed and remembered with much gratitude.

Kellee M. Johnson
Principal, The Ballast Group; Mentor, DePaul University, Coleman Entrepreneurship Center;
Past Board Member: Rollins College and Lynn Sage Cancer Research Foundation

Susan and I met well over three decades ago, before she met her dear Joe, way back when we were still fellow youthful professors of English and newly anointed "baby deans." We had much in common and enjoyed an annual drink or two--preferably at a rooftop bar--though she favored bourbon, while I was loyal to scotch. 

We gradually moved toward executive leadership, and I had the pleasure of being a reference when she was hired at AGB and then watching as she joined Rick Legon as the face of the organization. She became a mentor for me in governance. Along with her AGB comrades, Tom Longin and Doug Orr, she had a major impact on my presidential and consulting career. We kept in touch and came full circle together, after she left for NACUBO, when she was my senior partner the first time I co-led the AGB Institute for Board Chairs and Presidents (IBCP).

Susan had a warm soul as well as a sharp mind and a classy, no-nonsense style, enlivened by a marvelously mischievous wit. I raise "The Parting Glass" to her in tribute.  

Tom Flynn
AGB Senior Fellow and IBCP Faculty; President Emeritus, Alvernia University  



I admired Susan for over a decade, first in her role at AGB and then as she came in as NACUBO’s president and shined brightly as its leader.  In addition, those of us in Central Florida or in the Rollins Community recognized her leadership of her alma mater in a time of great change.  Susan was always a role model to me: smart, creative, humble, classy, empathetic, impactful.  We will all miss her leadership of not just NACUBO but also of all the places in higher education which she touched.  My condolences go out to her family, friends and colleagues on the loss of Susan.  She touched us all.

Warm regards,
Wendy B. Libby, PhD
President Emerita, Professor Emerita, Stetson University

Dr. Susan Whealler Johnston was my Business Writing professor at Rockford College (now Rockford University) in 1985.  Susan was my favorite professor because she encouraged me to excel, in English and in all subjects.  Her encouragement (and constructive critique!) was certainly a motivating force that led to a satisfying career in the corporate world.

Susan was not only an excellent educator, but a great friend for 37 years.  I will miss her beyond measure.

Jim Durree
Los Angeles, California

What a remarkable and transformational leader she was for NACUBO, and how lucky we were to get some of her direct focus and attention while she worked to make NACUBO, and our profession, stronger and more inclusive.

NACUBO colleagues, our best wishes to you on the loss of a dear colleague and leader.  I know her warmth and impact will last well beyond her time with you, and that you will miss her.

Christopher Lee
Vice President for Finance and Administration, Grand View University 

NACUA joins the higher education community in mourning the passing of NACUBO CEO Susan Whealler Johnston, Ph.D. Susan was a trailblazer, a brilliant intellect, and a generous human being who had a transformative impact on NACUBO and on our sector. Under Susan’s leadership, NACUA and NACUBO enjoyed a close relationship from which members of both organizations benefited. Her leadership, grace, and insight into the business of higher education will be missed. We extend our condolences to Susan’s friends, family, and colleagues. 

Sent on behalf of Ona Alston Dosunmu, NACUA President and CEO and Janine DuMontelle, NACUA Board Chair

Susan was a dear friend and valued colleague, and she leaves a lasting legacy of commitment and accomplishments across a wide spectrum of the higher education community. Her passion for student success and inclusion benefited countless institutions and students. She will be sorely missed. My deepest condolences to Susan's family and her community at NACUBO.

Ted Mitchell
President, American Council on Education

I am stunned by this news. Susan was a boss, mentor, colleague, friend. We worked together at AGB for 10 years and I knew from day one that Susan had a unique combination of intelligence, compassion, savvy, and devilish humor. What a huge loss for the community, her friends and family - she will be greatly missed.

Joan Menzer

Susan's extraordinary impact on higher education and society is indelible, as her contributions live on and on in the lives of so, so many people.  A tireless advocate for higher education leaders, especially those from under-represented groups, Susan stood strong for ethical leadership that realizes social progress through higher education.  What an extraordinary role model - then, now, and ever more.  This is such a deep loss for NACUBO and the entire higher education community.  Her legacy is ours to carry forward.  

Beth Paul
President, Nazareth College and former NACUBO Board Member

We wanted to reach out on behalf of everyone here at TIAA with our deepest sympathy for your loss. Susan was an amazing, dedicated leader and wonderful colleague who will be missed throughout the world of higher education.

Working together with all of you, Susan led NACUBO to achieve so much in such a short time. We are committed to supporting you in your mission going forward – together, we can preserve Susan’s legacy and extend it far into the future.

We hope that Susan’s memory is a blessing for you all. Please let us know if we can do anything at all to help in this difficult time.

Sending our deepest condolences,

Thasunda Brown Duckett
President and CEO, TIAA

Susan and I have been friends and colleagues for many years, long before her presidency at NACUBO. I have so many beautiful memories with Susan and will never forget the day she called me to say she had accepted the role as president of NACUBO, making sure I was going to be at her inauguration. Susan was a friend, an advocate, a consummate professional, and just an utter delight. I will cherish my times with her and will miss her greatly. Susan changed the world, and the world will never be the same without her.

Bruce Hoeker
Executive Director, Association of Business Administrators of Christian Colleges

Staff of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) are deeply saddened by the passing of Susan Whealler Johnston. Susan expertly served on the NSSE National Advisory Board  for two terms from 2015-2021. The project benefited from her outsized support for strengthening student engagement and promoting educational quality. She exemplified the adage that everyone on campus is responsible for student success through her efforts to enhance faculty development, reinforce Trustees’ support for innovations to enhance academic quality, and to focus college and university business officers attention on data to support student success. Most memorable to me is the challenge she made during one of her many presentations about the importance of data to improve completion: “How does data about your undergraduate students help you be smarter about student success?” We are grateful for the time and energy Susan dedicated to improving higher education.

Jillian Kinzie
Interim Co-Director, National Survey of Student Engagement, Center for Postsecondary Research, Indiana University Bloomington

Susan brought passion, inquiry, and thoughtful reflection into discussions among higher education leaders. She was welcoming and kind, and I feel blessed to have had her in my life as a colleague and friend. My thoughts are with her family and friends, and the entire NACUBO staff and community.


John Taylor
Chief Executive Officer, Association of College Unions International

When I first met Susan, I remember being fascinated by her liberal arts background and her rise to leadership in a finance-oriented field. Her stories were full of laughter and joy, as we swapped lessons in leadership and got to know each other. I am part of the NACUBO family because of her, and I will forever be grateful for her extension of friendship. 

Tashni-Ann Dubroy, Ph.D.
Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer, Howard University

Susan you were an authentic leader who led through your actions. You fresh eyes were needed. You improved NACUBO in many ways, most prominent was in our DEI activities. I will always remember you as a change agent, willing to do the difficult work. We were blessed to have you for even this short while. My heart goes out to your family. Rest in peace. I will see you on the other side.  

Dawn M. Rhodes
Chief Business and Finance Officer and Senior Vice President for Administration & Finance, University of Maryland, Baltimore

Losing Susan is a tremendous loss for all of higher education. Her brilliance and generosity were evident in everything she did. And she accomplished so much during her career. I was fortunate to meet her during my time at the Council of Independent Colleges. She worked hard to strengthen association partnerships and NACUBO's programming is outstanding and its impact very strong due to her excellent leadership. Deepest condolences to her family, colleagues, and friends.

Kerry E. Pannell
Provost, Presbyterian College

I am so saddened by the passing of Susan. What a loss! She and Joe were just such wonderful folks and I so enjoyed getting to spend time with them. But also, Susan brought so much to NACUBO. She educated us all in best practices in higher education leadership. She helped transform the organization at exactly the time it was needed. She introduced numerous innovative programs and activities. We will all remember Susan and Joe with great fondness, and I know Susan will live on in so many ways thanks to her many contributions to NACUBO and to higher education.

Teresa Costantinidis
Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration, The University of New Mexico

Susan was a wise and graceful leader, always strategic and inspiring.  Under her leadership, NACUBO not only survived but thrived, and in the midst of COVID. She was bold, took decisive action and a lovely human – the definition of a leader.  Thanks to Susan for all she did for NACUBO, and for leaving a truly outstanding staff.

Ruth A. Johnston, Ph.D.
Vice Chancellor, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Covid-19 Officer ,New Mexico State University

When Susan joined NACUBO, I remember her focus on listening and learning as she began her leadership journey.  As she mapped the strategic plan for the Association, she maintained this curiosity and humbleness.   May Susan rest in peace knowing her light and spirit will continue to shine.

Diane M. Fennig, Ph.D.
Senior Consultant, Gallagher Executive Search and Leadership Advisors 

The words of Maya Angelou came to mind when I sadly learned of Susan’s passing- “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” As an inaugural Emerging Leaders Program participant, I am grateful for Susan’s advocacy for building a pipeline of future higher ed business officers. Although my interactions with her were brief, she was inspirational and generous with her time.

I will always remember how Susan made me feel- supported, respected, and most importantly… a valued member of the NACUBO community.  

Thank you, Susan. May your memories bring warmth and light to your family, friends, and colleagues during this time.

Anne K. Santos
Executive Assistant to Dean Robert Bruce and HR Administrator, Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies, Rice University

Thank you for your tribute to this remarkable leader in higher education. Susan was the first person to reach out to me when I started my new position at the New American Colleges and Universities. She inspired me with her generous spirit, creative mind, and exceptional leadership. We bonded immediately, creating opportunities for NACUBO and NACU to work together then and now. We will honor Susan’s legacy at NACU with her same generosity and innovation and work tirelessly to advance higher education through collaboration.

Sean Creighton
President, The New American Colleges and Universities

I was so sorry to read about Susan’s passing. She was an amazing leader and individual. I regret she left us so soon and want to offer her family and NACUBO my deepest condolences.

Barbara Gellman-Danley, Ph.D.
President, Higher Learning Commission

I immediately connected with Susan because we were both leading large non-profits in higher education with all of our degrees in English.  We had many laughs and a couple of happy hours in the time our paths crossed, and I’ll really miss having a colleague like her who was always willing to listen and quick to share information, practices, and wisdom. 

John O’Brien
President and CEO, EDUCAUSE

From all of us at UConn, please accept our deepest condolences on the passing of Susan.  Susan was an exceptional and highly respected leader that will be remembered for her significant contributions to our profession. Rest in peace Susan. 

 Trish Casey
Associate Vice President, Financial Operations and Controller, University of Connecticut

My deepest condolences to Susan's family and the larger NACUBO community on Susan's untimely passing.  She made a tremendous impact in a short time at NACUBO's helm, a time severely challenged by the pandemic.  I enjoyed many stimulating and challenging conversations with her, each of those demonstrating how dedicated she was to higher education, and to the advancement of our profession.  She recognized our profound roles in promoting the missions of our institutions.  At the recent NACUBO Annual Meeting, I greatly missed the chance to reengage with her in person, understanding the challenge she was battling.

Susan has set a high bar for all of us and for NACUBO, and we will honor her legacy by striving to reach that bar.  We will miss you, Susan.  Rest in peace.

J. Michael Gower
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Rutgers University

I met Susan in the mid-90s when she and Joe got together (I was the director of the National Foreign Language Center in DC at the time, and we had a major project with Joe and AAC&U)—Joe called and invited me to dinner at the Iron Gate Inn to meet “someone special.”  We became fast friends on the spot.  In one of my early years at Drake University, Susan and Joe came out for the Iowa State Fair—a memorable experience in all kinds of ways…

Susan facilitated two Drake University board assessment workshops—masterfully, of course, and earning the gratitude and admiration of everyone.  When I retired from Drake (after 16 years) and joined AGB as a Senior Fellow and Senior Consultant, Susan was my treasured colleague as well as treasured friend—she enriched me, she encouraged me, she challenged me, she made me better at what I was doing.  It was a wonderful partnership that was one of the highlights of my professional and personal lives.

I am immensely grateful that Susan was part of my life for nearly two decades, and deeply saddened that she has left us all too soon.

David Maxwell
President emeritus, Drake University
Senior Fellow/Senior Consultant, Association of Governing Boards
Trustee, Grinnell College

On behalf of the TouchNet family, we extend our heartfelt condolences on the passing of Dr. Susan Whealler Johnston. We admire the leadership she gave to NACUBO and the entire higher education community. She was thoughtful, caring, and passionate. May we all remember her lifetime of contributions to the pursuit of reinforcing the value of higher education. Rest in peace.

Adam McDonald

President, TouchNet

This is truly sad news … Susan did absolutely amazing things for NACUBO during her four years as president and CEO of the association – the first female in this role. She was not able to attend the 2022 Annual Meeting in Denver because of health reasons. She was such an inspirational leader and cherished mentor. To say she modernized NACUBO is an understatement … vital new programs such as the Emerging Leaders Program and the NACUBO Advisory Group on Leadership Diversity (I’m honored to have been an inaugural member of both) came to fruition under her leadership. She’ll be missed … but she paved the way for amazing new things in NACUBO’s future!

You were a much-needed burst of new leadership, excitement, energy, passion, creativity and inspiration to all members of NACUBO and you have helped effect amazingly positive change for our association.  I’m sorry that we never got to meet in person, but enjoyed our numerous interactions via Zoom meetings and emails.  You were a true inspirational leader, genuine hero and cherished mentor to me … and to countless others. 

Susan, we miss you.  Your spirit will be with us forever.  Thank you for everything … you’ve left an amazing legacy.

Bob Miller
Director of Fiscal Administration, Office of the Senior Vice Provost for Strategic Enrollment, The University of Texas at San Antonio

Susan was an exceptional person and someone that everyone respected. She was so generous with her time, sharing her experiences, and her perspective on the future of higher education. Susan was a mentor, a friend, and the leader that I aspire to be.

Mike Moss
President, The Society for College and University Planning

I will always remember how kind Susan was to me when I arrived in the Washington Secretariat as a new association CEO.  She was a wonderful mentor, colleague and friend, and will be missed dearly.  I know her legacy will live on for decades.  I send wishes of strength and comfort to her family at this difficult moment.

Angel B. Pérez
Chief Executive Officer, National Association for College Admission Counseling

May God rest her soul and comfort her Family, Friends and Colleagues during this time.

Warm Regards,

Teresa Sterling
Accountant, Scholarships and Financial Aid, University of Houston-Downtown

Our hearts are heavy throughout our higher ed community as we learn about the passing of Susan.  I enjoyed a brainstorming day with her years ago when she first took office as she saw the need for analytics in our industry.  Her vision and grace will serve as a model for all of us in years to come.  To the NACUBO staff, I send my warmest thoughts for your strength, peace, and community to support each other during these difficult days.  May we carry her torch forward together in memory of her.  Rest in eternal peace, Susan.

Belva D. White
Vice President for Finance and Treasury, Emory University; Past Chair, NACUBO Accounting Principles Council; Past Member, Analytics Advisory Group

Susan and I came to NACUBO at the same time in August of 2018.  I was immediately impressed by her and remain so to this day.  Her grace, kindness, thoughtfulness, and professionalism have had a profoundly positive impact on NACUBO as an association, on its board, leadership, and staff, and on me personally.  I am grateful to her for her contributions to our profession; Higher Education and NACUBO are better because of her leadership and service.  Her family, loved ones, friends, and colleagues are in Cindy’s and my thoughts and prayers.  She will be greatly missed.  Rest in peace, Joe and Susan.

Russ Hannah
Chief Financial Officer, Arkansas State University

Susan touched the lives of so many people, especially mine.  I remember the first time had a conversation with her about my career aspirations.  In addition to providing me encouragement and support, she immediately connected me with people who could assist, including her late husband Joe. Susan made it a practice to visit Board member institutions and I believe her visit as CEO was to my institution, the University of Richmond.  She made such an impression on everyone she met during that visit, so much so colleagues still mention it to me. A hallmark of a good leader is their ability to influence and guide those around them so they are seen, valued, and inspired in such a way that moves the group or organization forward and having a material impact on outcomes and those involved. Susan was not just a good leader, she was a great leader.  More importantly than that she was a great person.  I consider myself blessed to have known her, a better person for having been around her, and a better leader through observing her leadership in action and the conversations we had over the years. 

Rest easy Susan!  We will miss you!

Keith W. "Mac" McIntosh
Vice President and Chief Information Officer Information Services, University of Richmond

Please accept my deep condolences on this sad news.  Please extend my condolences to her family.   I hope you, her family, and the NACUBO community can find comfort in the support of her colleagues in the association community.

With sympathy,

Esther Brimmer
Executive Director and CEO, NAFSA

My board tenure with NACUBO overlapped with Susan’s arrival.  She stepped into a challenging situation with a calm and steady hand.  She exemplified strong and compassionate leadership.  NACUBO was very fortunate to be lead by Susan and she is already greatly missed.

Tom Herbert

Please extend our heartfelt condolences to Susan’s family and the NACUBO community on her untimely passing. She will be missed dearly as a respected leader, colleague, and friend; May She Rest In Peace. 

Most sincerely,


Antonio R. Flores

President & CEO, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU)




In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Valley Conservation Council in Staunton, VA via mail (address below) or online (write Susan Whealler Johnston in the comments box).


The Valley Conservation Council
In memory of Dr. Susan Whealler Johnston
P.O. Box 988 Staunton, VA 24402