TAMPA — Longtime Hillsborough Community College administrator Sylvia Marion Carley always found time for family, the community, or the next generation of educators — what she called "My Colleagues." It took only one phone call for her to stop and help someone in need.
Warren Tim Smith, who once worked under Dr. Carley at HCC, recalls his first assignment as the pre-collegial liaison officer with the College Reach Out Program in 2000. Instructed to take a group of high school students to Atlanta for a college tour, he ran into trouble gaining the parents' trust as a new employee.
On a late Sunday night, as the buses prepared to depart HCC's Ybor campus, and the parents would not let their children go with a stranger.
Smith called Dr. Carley at 10 p.m. and she came to campus, spoke to the parents, and convinced them to let their children go assuring them everything would be okay because she had vetted him.
"That's just the kind of person she was," Smith said.
"Dr. Carley genuinely cared and she was invaluable to the community. Everyone knew and respected her, so if Dr. Carley said it's okay then it must be okay."
Colleagues, friends and family hold fond memories of Dr. Carley, who died suddenly June 17 after suffering a stroke, said her daughter Ivana Carley. The 72-year-old worked at HCC for more than 30 years, working as the dean and president at HCC's Ybor City and Dale Mabry campuses, and as vice president for education and student services.
Her notable achievements also include creating the Black, Brown & College Bound (BBCB) summit, a program designed to address the challenges facing African American and Latino male students. The event provides scholarships to students and routinely draws notable speakers. It remains the highest profile event at the college.
A Tampa native, Dr. Carley was born May 31, 1946, and graduated from Bethune-Cookman University and was an active member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. She also earned her master's degree from Clark Atlanta University and her doctorate in philosophy from the University of Florida, all while maintaining a family. She went on to obtain a certificate from Harvard University in higher education management.
Dr. Carley, who also held membership in the prestigious Athena Society, enjoyed reading historical fiction, playing cards and spending time with family, but without a doubt, education and empowering others in the community served as passions. Even after retiring in 2007, she couldn't stay away from it.
"Her retired life wasn't your typical retired life," Ivana Carley said.
"BBCB was her baby. She was still heavily involved and always doing something always on the move. She saw an issue and addressed it head on."
Ivana Carley, mother to her own 6-year-old daughter, struggled to pinpoint just one thing she learned from her notable mother. She recalled lessons on how to be a mother that listens, understands and is patient, but ultimately appreciates how her mother's willingness to help others instilled in her a sense of service.
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"My mother would always tell me it's not practice that makes perfect, but perfect practice makes perfect" she said.
"Giving your best is the most important thing you can give an individual and your life should be lived as to how you can best serve others, not how you can be served."
Joan Holmes, a longtime friend who took over BBCB in 2012, laughed as she recalled memories of Dr. Carley always coming in as a retired consultant impeccably dressed up as if she was going to work, whereas everyone else would wear jeans.
Holmes also reveled about their monthly gatherings at the Open Cafe in East Tampa, laughing and talking politics for hours over coffee and breakfast.
"She was just a phenomenal woman and I'm so grateful to have known her professionally and personally." she said.
"She was always this passionate innovator. You get some people with the passion, but they don't have the innovation, or vice versa, but she had it all. She came on a mission and would stay until what she needed to accomplish was done. And [personally] she was a very friendly, classy person who was also a hidden political junkie and a sports nut."
Keith Berry, the dean of academic affairs at the HCC Ybor Campus, said Dr. Carley's passing is a huge loss for HCC, the community and for him personally because she hired him back in 1994, serving as his mentor along the way.
"Honestly, I would not be here if it were not for Dr. Carley. She was mentoring me before I knew I was being mentored and always grooming me for the thing I didn't know I was going to pursue."
He said she was always available and gave advice in a very pleasant, but didactic way, and his fondest memory is her ability to be firm, yet kind.
"She was a woman that had a lot of things going on," Berry said. "But when the conversation was over and the decision was made, I always remember her saying 'I thank you much.' It was very nice but it was time to move on.
"She's what I call Old Tampa or Tampa proper which gives you a true understanding to the community."
HCC president Ken Atwater remembers her by her passion for the success of the students and HCC, and claimed one of her favorite things was graduation.
"Dr. Carley was one of the solid foundations at HCC, and she will truly be missed," said Atwater, who named the BBCB luncheon after Carley in 2013.
"She definitely left a huge footprint and the college has lost a great resource. Anytime you have someone with history and passion — invaluable."
Contact Monique Welch at email@example.com