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Remembering and honoring the first loss in our UMD community due to COVID-19

Dear University of Maryland community,

I write to share the heart-breaking information of the first known death, on April 1, 2020, of a member of our University community due to complications related to COVID-19. I do so with the consent of the family. He is Distinguished University Professor David C. Driskell, a renowned artist, art historian, collector, and curator.

Professor Driskell joined the Department of Art in 1977 and taught until his retirement in 1998. The University in 2001 established the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora to honor his work. A towering figure in the art world, he transformed the field of African American art through his scholarship, innovation, and humanity, showing how it is essential to the American art canon. In 2000, President Clinton awarded him the National Humanities Medal.

He said that some of his happiest experiences were with students. He taught, mentored, and helped countless students to successful careers in the arts.

To many on campus, Professor Driskell was a beloved friend. We grieve his passing. On behalf of the University, I offer our deepest condolences to his wife Thelma, to his daughters Daviryne and Daphne, and to his many friends and colleagues. We are grateful that he came to offer remarks at the Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell lecture at the Driskell Center on March 3, 2020, his last time on campus.

We are all concerned about the safety of our loved ones and ourselves. The University has implemented social distancing and other safety measures in the face of this unfolding and invisible public health crisis. We must continue to remain vigilant, prioritize preventive and safety behaviors such as stay at home, avoid gatherings of more than 10 people, stand six feet away from others, wash hands frequently, and wear face masks in public settings.

While we do not know how long this crisis will last, we are called upon to show resilience, determination, and compassion. These qualities of mind and spirit are rooted in our togetherness as a community and in our obligations to each other and to our collective safety. Our vulnerability connects us. An emergency summons us to do our duty as citizens and neighbors. Together, we have the capacity to make it through, and we will.

In solidarity,

Wallace D. Loh
President, University of Maryland