To Nat Glover, his path to becoming president of Edward Waters College was a series of seemingly unrelated events over most of his life.
The daily chore he had to do while attending the historically black college on a football scholarship.
The faces of the many young African-American males he put in jail during his nearly 38 years with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
A woman who tearfully chastised Glover for not doing more after he retired as sheriff to stop young people from being murdered in his hometown.
Working three years with his close pal and confidant, John Delaney, at the University of North Florida to provide scholarships to students who couldn’t afford college.
And his inability to run from the question of why shouldn’t he lead his alma mater when it was starving for a boost of credibility.
Once he quit running and took the job, Glover raised $10 million for the college, increased enrollment, transformed the physical look of the campus and brought a hope to the storied institution that had been missing for years.
That turnaround work has made Glover a finalist for HBCU Digest male president of the year, which will be announced today.
“He’s really planted a flag there,” said Delaney, president at UNF. “He’s doing noble things at that place.”
The place that gave Glover a chance as a teenager and called him back to do the same for a new generation.
A stranger’s criticism
Glover is a spiritual man who believes divine intervention brought him to Edward Waters. The modern-day catalyst for that intervention was in a parking lot of a barbecue stand on Soutel Drive.
He had been out of public life for three years — “After the people had retired me by not voting for me for mayor,” Glover laughed.
As he was getting into his car one Friday night, Glover dropped his keys between the seat and the console while putting the bag of food in the passenger seat. As his large hands fished for the keys in that small space, a woman pulled into the parking lot.
The murder rate had spiked, bringing a hopelessness in some areas of the city. People were asking what he was doing to help.
“You have the ability to help us,” she said to him, “and you won’t help us.”
Glover reminded her he was retired, but also said he was talking to the mayor and the sheriff and doing what he could to help. That answer was typically enough for the increasing number of people who had been asking how he was helping.
But this woman persisted.
“You’ve been blessed and these people are dying and you’re not helping,” she said.
Glover said he did everything he could to disengage from her, but she would not let him go.
“When I did get away from her, I felt so awful,” he said.
He began to question if he really was doing everything he could do. He felt so bad, he needed to talk to someone.
As had been the case for years, that someone was Delaney.
“I was wondering if people were pushing him like they were pushing me,” Glover said.
That Friday night was a long one for Glover. “I remember not sleeping very much because I was sitting up, watching the phone, waiting for daybreak for a reasonable time to call John,” he said.
Unbeknownst to Glover, Delaney had been planning to call him to talk about the former sheriff coming on board at UNF.
Delaney said Glover initially was a little hesitant but ultimately agreed to be special adviser to the president.
Out of those conversations came the Jacksonville Commitment, a program that helped provide scholarships to students in need, which had great appeal to Glover.
It also would be a way he could answer the woman’s question about what he was doing to help young people in the community.
A question the still-unidentified woman was able to ask only because the short delay he encountered when he dropped his keys.
Learning about academia
Glover was at UNF for three years, with a seat at the cabinet meetings and the opportunity to learn about higher education.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “I was just advocating for (Jacksonville) Commitment and making certain it was a priority in the University of North Florida’s strategic plan.”
Certainly an unexpected detour for what he had planned for retirement, but the spiritual side of Glover is certain it was planned for him.
“Actually I believe to this day that I was destined to be here as president and the Lord sent me there to get me ready,” Glover said.
He only wishes he had known what was coming.
“Now I often say to the Lord, ‘Thank you Lord, but if you had told me what you were doing, I would have paid closer attention to what was going on,’” Glover laughed.
Getting him to Edward Waters wasn’t only divine intervention, he said, there was a plot involved.
Finally saying yes
In 2010, when Claudette Williams resigned as the college’s president, a search began for an interim leader.
Glover, still working at UNF, was a member of the board of trustees at Edward Waters. The chairman of the board asked Glover to talk to Adam Herbert about being interim president. Herbert, a former UNF president, was a good friend, so Glover easily agreed.
“Little did I know they were plotting to get me,” Glover said.
Again, Glover turned to Delaney, talking to him about making the best pitch to Herbert.
Both Delaney and Glover remember the conversation that followed in great detail and with great enjoyment after Delaney asked this question: “Nat, why don’t you go over there and be president of Edward Waters?”
Delaney said Glover’s eyes got big. He rocked back in his chair. And then, he pointed his finger at Delaney and said, “Don’t mention this to anyone.”
Glover was concerned if people heard Delaney talk about it, they would think it was a good idea.
“I made him promise before he left that room that he wouldn’t say that to anybody else,” Glover said.
As Delaney got in his car shortly after their talk, he saw he had missed several calls on his cell phone from Ava Parker, the general counsel for the AME Church, which is affiliated with the college.
She wanted to talk to Delaney before his conversation with Glover. She wanted Delaney to help convince Glover he should be interim president.
When the bishop for the AME Church asked Glover about being interim president, Glover told him he didn’t think the community would see him as the best choice, because he wasn’t an academician with strong education credentials.
The next week, Glover was in Tampa when the bishop called. About 12 community leaders, including Delaney, were in his office for a conference call to convince Glover he was the right man for the job.
“In good faith, he (the bishop) answered the question,” he said.
Glover sees a connection between his current job and his career in law enforcement. Without a doubt, he said, he put a lot of young men in jail, with a higher percentage of African-Americans “than would make me proud.”
Now, he’s president of a historically black college where the majority of the students are male.
“That could be a way that the Lord is saying to me, ‘I’m going to give you a unique opportunity for redemption,’” Glover said.
He relishes that chance.
Still work to do
Delaney heaps praise on Glover for the job he’s done at Edward Waters, especially when it comes to raising money.
If you scale it, Delaney said, UNF is roughly 20 times larger than Edward Waters. By that comparison, Glover has brought in more money in his time at the college than has come into UNF during the same period.
Delaney also talks about the importance of the improvements to the buildings, the addition of the police substation on the campus and the stabilization Glover has brought to the college.
Their friendship, which began when Delaney was mayor and Glover was sheriff, is so close, they have a rule of not going more than 10 days without seeing each other.
“He is one of the best human beings I’ve ever met,” Delaney said. “I can tear up just talking about the guy.”
The trust Glover earned over the years has now transferred to the college, Delaney said.
“The major philanthropists in the community are aware of his personal integrity and honesty,” he said.
Since Glover has been there, the college has received millions from well-known donors, such as Kim and Michael Ward, Steve Pajcic and Delores and Wayne Weaver.
With all Glover has done at Edward Waters, there are several projects on his to-do list:
• Increase enrollment to 1,000
• Build another residence hall
• Have another academic building
• Have a football-type stadium on campus
• Convert a building on campus to an Honors Village to house the top academic students. That project will cost about $1.3 million, for which he’ll begin raising money for soon.
“I’ve got these things in my mind, my heart and my head. If I can do those things, maybe we can talk about succession,” said the 71-year-old Glover.
He loves walking the campus, talking to his students. He’s been where they are, working hard to ensure the future is better than the past.
His advice: They have to plan, prepare, persevere and pray to succeed.
The hallway leading to Glover’s office is lined with portraits of the college’s presidents.
Also in that hallway is what Glover believes is the earliest sign he was destined to lead Edward Waters.
When he was a student, there were three things he was told he had to do well every day to maintain his athletic scholarship: Play football, do his classwork and clean a men’s restroom.
That restroom is in the hallway leading to Glover’s office.