The University of Virginia’s College at Wise and the Wise County community came to campus Friday to honor the memory of a woman who cultivated friendships, nurtured students and planted kindness with every touch.

The College honored the memory of Merry Lu Prior, a First Lady of the College at Wise when her husband David J. Prior was chancellor, by dedicating the Merry Lu Prior Garden just outside Crockett Hall. Chancellor Donna P. Henry said Mrs. Prior was known for her positive attitude and remarkable kindness.

“Although she could have called many places that she and David lived throughout their lives home, she considered Southwest Virginia and UVA-Wise to be her home,” Henry said. “She was devoted to ensuring its continued educational and spiritual growth in a multitude of ways.”

Henry said Mrs. Prior stepped into the unofficial role of ambassador and representative of the Chancellor’s Office when her husband passed away in February 2012.

“I recall fondly how warm and welcoming she was to me, my husband, Allen, and daughters, Margaret and Jessie,” Henry said.

Henry recalled how Mrs. Prior attended many performing art events, lectures, sporting events and academic programs so she could carry on the legacy of support of the faculty, staff and students. She also established the Merry Lu Prior Bicentennial Scholarship, which will be a constant reminder of her strong commitment to the mission of the College at Wise.

“She was friend to many, an ambassador of the College, a generous benefactor, a supporter of the arts, and in her own right, an artistic soul who loved to beautify everything around her,” Marcia A. Gilliam, chair of the UVA-Wise College Board, said.

Mrs. Prior sought harmony and wanted to instill a sense of ease, of grounding, and of comfort in all people, Gilliam explained, adding that gardening is the perfect analogy for her life.

“This College was her garden,” Gilliam said. “She put her hands to hard work to nurture, to grow, to shape and to guide our College and especially our students.”

Alumna Madison Savarese, worked alongside Mrs. Prior as the student site supervisor for the Prior Convocation Center.  She told the crowd that Mrs. Prior is remembered for her warm smile, sense of humor, and for helping others. The garden is the perfect way to honor her legacy, she added.

Mrs. Prior’s children, Andrea and Christopher, and other family members attended the dedication.

“We are very thankful, as a family, to be a part of this today,” Andrea Prior said.

She said the family always had a garden, even when they moved around from time to time. Mrs. Prior’s plants would be dug up and transplanted in every move, she said.

“Whatever kind of seed it was, she wanted it to grow,” she added.

Christopher Prior thanked the crowd for coming to the dedication and said Wise and the community became home for both his father and mother.

Chancellor Henry concluded the dedication by saying the garden would be a reminder of Mrs. Prior because it is a place of beauty, wonder and communion.

Photo by Earl Neikirk