Former Durham Tech President Phail Wynn, a titan of higher education, dies Tuesday

Dr. Phail Wynn, Jr.

Editor’s Note: A funeral for Phail Wynn will be held at 11 a.m. Monday, July 30, in Duke Chapel, according to Duke. Doors to the chapel will open at 10 a.m. The service is open to members of the Duke community and the public, according to Duke. Details about parking and traffic can be found at

Former Durham Technical Community College President Phail Wynn, Jr., a titan of higher education in Durham and a lifelong advocate of the city, died suddenly of natural causes at his home Tuesday. He was 70.

The first African American community college president in North Carolina, Dr. Wynn spent nearly three decades as the third president of Durham Tech. He significantly grew the College’s training and instruction in high-technology areas and provided customized training programs to most of the firms in Research Triangle Park.

Following his tenure at Durham Tech, Wynn went on to head a newly created office as the Vice President for Durham and Regional Affairs at Duke University in 2008. He retired in June.

After the news of Wynn’s passing on Tuesday, Durham Tech President Bill Ingram expressed his condolences and his appreciation for the tremendous impact Wynn had on the region.

“I am shocked and deeply saddened by the news of the unexpected passing of my mentor, colleague, and friend, Dr. Phail Wynn, Jr.  Dr. Wynn’s contributions to this community and state are broad and deep,” Dr. Ingram said. “He touched the lives of countless thousands of residents of Durham and the Triangle region through his 27 years as Durham Tech’s third president and over ten years as Duke’s first Vice President for Durham and Regional Affairs.  My thoughts and prayers are with Peggy, Rahsaan, and the Wynn family at this heartbreaking time.”

The flag at Durham Tech was lowered to half-staff on Wednesday in his memory.

Wynn kept close ties to the College and served as the 2018 Spring Commencement keynote speaker in May.

Current and former Durham Tech employees spoke Wednesday morning of Wynn’s great legacy of love for Durham and the surrounding communities.

Angela Perry, a longtime assistant to Wynn, said she was shocked by the news and remembered Wynn as not only a supervisor, but a friend.

Perry said she first started assisting Wynn more than 23 years ago as a student in the President’s Office, but later was hired full-time as executive secretary.

“I was honored. He was one of the greatest people to be around. When I first met him, he was of course very professional and very respectful,” Perry said. “He had that military background, but he was also very fun. He had a genuine concern for others. He had a genuine concern for the students and for what we did for the community.”

Tom Jaynes, Executive Vice President and Chief of Staff at Durham Tech, said Wynn played a profound role during his time at the College.

“Early in my career at Durham Tech, Dr. Wynn saw what I didn’t see in myself – potential for leadership,” Jaynes said. “In the midst of a difficult transition in student services, he asked me to take on my first director role at the college, which set me on a path that led to personal success and, more importantly, instilled a passion for equity and student success.  Dr. Wynn’s influence on my career was immeasurable. I am forever grateful.”

Dorothy Brower, a former colleague of Wynn at Durham Tech, said Wynn was a giant at the College when he took over as president in 1980.

“He was more of a brother than a boss. When he became president, it was really no surprise,” Brower said. “It was an opportunity for us as African Americans to see one of us in a leadership role with community colleges. To us, that was monumental.”

Brower, who was a part-time adult basic education instructor when she met Wynn, said he had a deep caring for the people he worked with on campus.

“We knew of his seriousness,” she said. “Being a Vietnam veteran and an Oklahoma cowboy, he was rough and tough on the edges, but deep down inside he was a big hearted person.”

Many on campus spoke Wednesday of Wynn’s passion for Durham Tech students and graduates.

During his keynote commencement speech in May, Wynn spoke often to the soon-to-be graduates seated inside the Durham Performing Arts Center.

“Each of you has vast amounts of untapped potential that has not been discovered or has not been developed simply because the circumstances of your life have never called them forth,” Wynn said. “You have barely scratched the surface of your deep reservoir of hidden talent.”

Early years

Wynn was born in Wewoka, Oklahoma, and was educated early on in Oklahoma and Wichita Falls, Texas. Wynn was a lifelong believer in higher education, earning his undergraduate at the University of Oklahoma and later a Master’s and doctorate from North Carolina State University.

But between his educational pursuits, Wynn joined the United States Army and honorably served with the 82nd Airborne Division based out of Fort Bragg. He was later assigned to the former John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg. He served a one-year combat tour in Vietnam.

After leaving the Army and completing advanced degrees from the College of Education and Psychology at NC State, Wynn accepted the position of Assistant to the President at then-Durham Technical Institute in 1977. Two years later, he was promoted to Vice President of Support Services at the College. In May 1980, he was appointed Interim President and was named President later that fall.

At 33 years old, he took over leadership at the College. Wynn championed innovations to enhance accessibility of all educational opportunities offered at Durham Tech.  As a result, Durham Tech now serves more than 18,000 area residents each year through a variety of credit and non-credit offerings.

Wynn received a Master of Business Administration from the Kenan-Flagler School of Business at the University of Chapel Hill and was an inductee of the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi and Betta Gamma Sigma, the national business honor society.


Some of Wynn’s most significant community and professional activities included: Former Chair of the Board of Directors and interim president/CEO of the Triangle Community Foundation, member of the Board of Governors of RTI International, and member of the Corporate Board of Directors of SunTrust Banks, Inc. and N.C. Mutual Life Insurance Company.

He was a founding Trustee of the Kenan Institute for Engineering, Technology and Science at North Carolina State University and also served on the Board of Directors of the Research Triangle Park Foundation of North Carolina. He was the former Chairman of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce and formerly served on the North Carolina Board of Nursing, the University of North Carolina Health Care System Board of Directors, the North Carolina Education Standards and Accountability Commission, and the Governor’s Task Force on Science and Technology.

Wynn was named by the North Carolina State University Alumni Association as 1981’s Outstanding Young Alumnus. He was honored as one of the country’s outstanding community college presidents in a University of Texas national study of “Transformational” Presidents in American Community Colleges.

The Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce named him as the recipient of its 1995 Civic Honor Award. Governor James B. Hunt, Jr. awarded him The Order of the Long Leaf Pine on November 9, 2000. Wynn received the Meritorious Service Award from the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools at the 2000 Annual Meeting. He received the M.B.A. Alumni Merit Award for 2004 from the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC Chapel Hill. He retired as President of Durham Technical Community College on December 31, 2007 and was named President Emeritus by the Board of Trustees. In 2012, the North Carolina Board of Community Colleges presented him with the I. E. Ready Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest distinction bestowed by the State Board.

Wynn is survived by his mother, Valree Fletcher Wynn, his wife, Peggy, and son, Rahsaan.

This article will be updated as new information becomes available.

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