Cecil Woodrow Shuler, 86, a retired Marine Corps colonel who, in a second career, came to be known as the father of Northern Virginia Community College, died Oct. 22 of congestive heart failure at Leewood Healthcare Center in Springfield.
He lived in Annandale.
Mr. Shuler was the first full-time employee hired by NVCC's first president, Robert McKee, when it was established as Northern Virginia Technical College in 1965. For the next 23 years, Mr. Shuler had a hand in nearly every major decision as the college grew from a technical school with fewer than a thousand students meeting in a warehouse to one of the largest community college systems in the nation.
When he retired in 1988, he recalled one of his first acts as dean: putting together 300 lecture hall desks the night before the school's doors officially opened.
"I'd ordered all these chairs, and somehow I thought we'd just open the boxes and lift them out," he told The Washington Post. "Instead, they were all in pieces." It took nearly all night to assemble them.
Then-NVCC President Richard J. Ernst said on the occasion of Mr. Shuler's retirement: "He's got more in his head than we have written down about the college."
Mr. Shuler was born and raised on a farm in Elloree, S.C. He graduated from the Citadel in 1939 and was inducted into the Marine Corps as a second lieutenant. He served in World War II and the Korean War as an intelligence officer, and, among numerous commendations, received the Legion of Merit with Combat V for exceptionally meritorious conduct on Iwo Jima.
In 1946, he helped develop the National War College, where he later taught, and, in 1961, participated in planning for an invasion of Cuba. After assignments throughout the world during 26 years of service, he retired from the Marine Corps as a colonel in 1965.
He received his master's degree in education administration from George Washington University in 1965, the same year he helped open NVCC in a Baileys Crossroads warehouse. Working as dean of students with McKee, he wrote the school's first catalog. He also hired and worked closely with architects converting the warehouse into classrooms and labs.
"For the first two years I seldom had a day off, even on the weekends. But I was enjoying it," he told The Post in 1988. He became dean of financial and administrative services in 1969.
As the college grew, he was responsible for planning the locations and raising funds for new campuses, helping pass bond referendums, working with seven counties in coordinating college offerings, buying land and overseeing design and construction. He negotiated the purchase of the Annandale campus site in 1965 for $1 million.
The first building on that campus is now called the Shuler Building. Also in his honor, the college created the Open Moment Fellowship, which provides money "for an intellectual, cultural or aesthetic experience" for faculty and staff.
Mr. Shuler retired after 23 years. In retirement, he played golf at Army-Navy Country Club, where was a member since 1939, grew roses and traveled extensively.
Survivors include his wife of 63 years, Katherine Dos Passos of Annandale; two daughters, Jane Price of Sacramento, Calif., and Martha Bernardi of Annandale; a sister; five grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.