For more than four decades, the name Lelia Brigham was synonymous with Vance-Granville Community College.
A continuing education art instructor since practically the beginning of the college in the fall of 1969, Brigham had a longer association with VGCC as an instructor than anyone else prior to her death in December 2014.
VGCC officials were recently informed that Brigham’s estate has left the college nearly $400,000, with additional assets pending.
Through this bequest, Brigham continues the legacy of learning to which she devoted her life, said VGCC President Dr. Stelfanie Williams.
“In death, as in life, Lelia Brigham is seeking to help Vance-Granville’s students get the education needed to enjoy a more meaningful quality of life,” said Dr. Williams. “Mrs. Brigham endowed five scholarships through our Endowment Fund, one of which she started just months before learning of her illness, and she assisted with a sixth. With this gift now, her generosity will be extended even further.”
With this contribution, a Presidential Scholar Award-level scholarship is being established in her name, according to Eddie Ferguson, director of VGCC’s Endowment Fund.
Brigham was one of the first three part-time instructors hired to teach at what was then Vance County Technical Institute in downtown Henderson. She continued to work part-time in the continuing education department as VCTI made the move to the new campus between Henderson and Oxford and became Vance-Granville Community College, as it is known today.
As an artist — painter, sculptor and photographer — she won numerous awards and was featured in the N.C. Community College System Art Exhibition for multiple years and the Contemporary Southern Art Festival, among other art shows. Many of her works hang in private and corporate collections around the world.
A painting by Brigham, “Vance County Tobacco Barn,” won the inaugural Hostesses’ Choice Award in the Arts and Photography competition at the 2012 North Carolina State Fair. Her miniature pastel was the only piece selected from among over 200 works by 120 artists to receive the new award.
Brigham helped found the Kerr Lake Art Society and organized its spring and fall art shows at VGCC. She also started the N.C. Nature Art Association’s Annual Art Show. She participated in many of VGCC’s Cultural Fairs. She was also a member of the North Carolina Watercolor Society.
Brigham endowed a number of scholarships at VGCC. They include:
- The John Brigham Memorial Academic Achievement Scholarship, in memory of her husband, December 2001.
- The Cecil L. Chacon Jr. Memorial Academic Achievement Scholarship, in memory of a longtime teacher for Vance County Schools who was also a part-time instructor for VGCC, December 2003.
- The Leo Kelly Jr. Academic Achievement Scholarship, honoring VGCC’s former Dean of Continuing Education, February 2008, with additional contributions from friends and VGCC colleagues.
- The Jerry Ellington Memorial Academic Achievement Scholarship, in memory of a friend of the Brighams, March 2008.
- The Nathan Burwell Memorial Academic Achievement Scholarship, in memory of a friend and co-worker of her husband, December 2009.
- The Sue Wooten Grissom Academic Achievement Scholarship, honoring VGCC’s former Director of Basic Skills, July 2014.
“Most of these scholarships started by Mrs. Brigham are intended for students who graduated from the college’s high school equivalency programs and continue their education at Vance-Granville in a curriculum program,” said Dr. Williams.
Brigham’s sister, Linda C. Ligon of Tryon, N.C., recently visited with college officials to celebrate the establishment of the new scholarship on the family’s behalf. In addition to Ligon, Brigham was survived by another sister, Gale C. Morgan of Birmingham, Alabama.
Ligon recalled her sister’s generosity, and how much she enjoyed personally presenting scholarships to VGCC students. Among Brigham’s papers, Ligon found a thank-you note from a scholarship recipient. Ligon also expressed her thanks to members of the local community “who were very kind to Lelia” during her illness. “I have learned that she had a lot of friends, and many of them were her former students,” Ligon said. “I had the pleasure of hearing from them how much she meant to them as a person, an artist and a teacher.”
The college is receiving a partial disbursement of funds from the estate and the full extent of the contribution will be determined once all assets are disbursed, said Ferguson. In addition to starting the new scholarship in her name, the college will explore using additional money to support visual and performing arts at VGCC.
A native of Winston-Salem, Brigham had been drawing and painting since childhood and was trained at the Ringling School of Art in Florida. The daughter of the late Dr. L.L. Chastain and Louise White Chastain, she lived in Henderson for most of her life. She was the widow of John Stovall Royster Brigham. She was also a retired lieutenant colonel in the Civil Air Patrol.