As a undergraduate and later graduate student at then-Southwest Missouri State University, I first became aware of Dr. David O. Belcher. I had several friends who were music majors, and they would speak glowingly of him. Another friend, an accounting major, took piano lessons from him.
As the College of Arts and Letters had leadership vacancies, Dr. Belcher was tapped to fill them. He was chosen because he was a visionary, a perfectionist, and a consensus builder.
My favorite memory of him during the time we were both in Springfield, however, is of him playing the piano portion of “Rhapsody in Blue” at the Grand Opening Gala of Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts. Backed by the Springfield Symphony, he deftly handled this classic piece. As a graduate assistant on the staff, I was able to listen to several rehearsals. He always gave his all during every run-through.
A few years after I returned to Little Rock, I received a phone call from Jo Jones in the Chancellor’s office at UALR. Dr. Joel Anderson was considering David to be his Provost. Jo (a family friend) knew I had attended SMSU and wanted to know my thoughts about him. I told her that due to the fact I was not involved directly in the music department, I had probably said fewer than 10 words to him, outside of “Hello” but then proceeded to tell her of his reputation, of what I had observed, and what I had heard from others. A week or so later, she called to tell me that Dr. Anderson had just announced to the UALR faculty the hiring of Dr. Belcher.
I sent him an email to welcome him to Little Rock. Since he was a musician, and cultural affairs were part of my duties at the City of Little Rock, I was especially excited to have him come. Some mutual friends asked me to also reach out to Susan. (I think they were not yet married but were engaged.) I was thrilled to do so.
Once they arrived, the Little Rock arts community embraced them, and they embraced it. It was a definite mutual admiration society. They became involved with the Symphony, the Rep, Wildwood, the Arts Center, Accademia dell’Arte, and numerous music organizations. They promoted the UALR arts to the community and supported on-campus efforts with their attendance and participation. I was eventually able to convince David to serve on the City’s Arts+Culture Commission. After service of few months, he was asked to be the chair. Though busy with numerous major tasks at UALR, he agreed.
From time to time we would meet for lunch. Our conversations would veer between Springfield, Little Rock, and the arts in general. They were always delightful.
In 2005, he was a finalist to become the next president at what would be Missouri State University. At the time, I joked to Dr. Anderson that either way the selection went, I would benefit. He responded with a smile that he appreciated my response, but that he did not benefit if David left. He followed up by saying, “He is so good, I know I won’t be able to keep him here forever, but I want a few more years.”
While it was not meant for David and Susan to return to Springfield, he maintained many close ties. (He also poached several excellent faculty and administrators from Springfield to come to Little Rock.)
Alas for Little Rock, in 2011 he was hired by Western Carolina University to lead that campus. Not only did it give him the chance to be a Chancellor, but it also took him closer to his family and his roots.
By all accounts, he was as dynamic and respected at WCU as he had been in Springfield and Little Rock. Unfortunately, in 2016, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Through two years of treatments, surgery, improvements, and setbacks, he kept up as well as possible with his duties.
A page on the WCU website posted updates. He felt it was important for the faculty, students, and donors to know about his status. A photo on that page shows hundreds of people standing in the rain at a rally to show support for him as he battled this. On August 1, 2017, he announced the tumor had returned. Later in the semester, he announced he would be going on medical leave effective December 31, 2017.
On June 14, 2018, the first update of the year was made. It noted he was in a care facility and receiving only family and close friends. It encouraged people to write notes and stressed that the Belchers wanted any tributes to be made for scholarships at WCU.
Following his death on June 17, 2018, his obituary also encouraged memorials be made to Furman (his alma mater), Missouri State University, and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Unselfish to the end, his last wishes paid tribute to the institutions which had prepared him to lead WCU.
Godspeed Dr. David O. Belcher. The music will continue to play. But it will be a slightly different tune without your contributions.