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We Remember Northern Virginia Community College’s Former President Dr. Richard James (Dick) Ernst on His Passing and Memorialize His 30 Year Legacy

Dr. Ernst working at his desk
Portrait of Dr. Ernst

Dr. Richard James (Dick) Ernst, the longest serving president of Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) passed on August 15, 2019. He was 86. The NOVA Nighthawk family is united in mourning his loss.

In 1968, Dr. Ernst was named the President of Northern Virginia Community College where he served for 30 years until his retirement in 1998. The college had been in existence for only three years when he arrived and had been without a president for 6 months. As noted in an oral history of NOVA, the college was basically a campus and a half at the time. He developed the framework for a multi-campus system then oversaw the completion of the Annandale Campus and the development of all NOVA’s current campuses, including the acquisition of the Medical Education Campus. He spent his first year writing the faculty handbook.

A man ahead of his time, the advancement of women in higher education was an issue of particular concern. He authored “Upward Mobility of Women in Higher Education Administration – It Doesn’t happen by Accident.” He also initiated an administrative leadership program specifically for women and minorities. Among the graduates of this program was the first Black president in the Virginia Community College system. As for the legions of NOVA students the college served during his critical period of leadership, Dr. Ernst was proudest of having opened the doors of educational opportunity to all who were seeking it, regardless of their ability to pay.

In reflecting on Dr. Ernst’s legacy, Dr. Mel Schiavelli, NOVA’s current, interim President noted, “Dr. Ernst’s legacy is the fundamental framework of this college, our focus on the quality of our faculty and NOVA’s ongoing commitment to being an educational and workforce necessity for the entire region.”

In addition to his status as a legendary educator, Dr. Ernst was a beloved husband, father, and grandfather. He had a passion for sports as a 4-letter athlete in track, football, basketball, and baseball. He is survived by his daughter Maribeth Ernst Luftglass and son-in-law Robert Luftglass of Fairfax, VA; his daughter Terrie McClure of Manassas, VA; his son Richard James Ernst, Jr. and daughter-in-law Elizabeth Ernst of Fredericksburg, VA; his grandchildren Jacob Luftglass of Los Angeles, CA, David Luftglass of Springfield, VA, Adam Luftglass of Fairfax, VA, Blair McAvoy of Charlottesville, VA, Shannon McAvoy of Fairfax, VA, Rose Ernst, Susan Ernst, and Richard J. Ernst III of Fredericksburg, VA and many loving nieces, nephews, cousins, and a host of friends.

His memorial service will be held on Saturday, August 31, 2019 at 11:00 am at Providence Presbyterian Church in Fairfax, VA, immediately followed by a lunch reception. Interment will be held at a later date at the Montreat Memorial Garden in Montreat, NC.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you consider a donation to:

The Richard J. Ernst Scholarship Fund
Northern Virginia Community College
4001 Wakefield Chapel Rd.
Annandale, VA 22003

Online donations can also be made to the Richard J. Ernst Scholarship Fund through the Northern Virginia Community College Education Foundation or through Facebook here.


Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) is the largest public institution of higher learning in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls nearly 80,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield (Medical Education Campus) and Woodbridge, through NOVA Online and high school dual enrollment. We offer more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs to help our students reach their academic and professional goals through university transfers and access to the most in-demand careers. At NOVA, we strive to ensure that every student succeeds, every program achieves and every community prospers. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, visit our website, www.nvcc.eduor call 703.323.3000.