Herman Dorsett, founding FIU professor and member of pioneering black family, dies at 78

Herman Willington Dorsett never met a stranger.

As a founding professor at Florida International University and a leader in many educational, civic and business organizations, Dorsett “knew everybody,” said his daughter Averill Dorsett.

“He had connections for almost everything and he wasn’t afraid to use them,” she said.

Added Kelsey Dorsett, Herman’s younger brother: “He was a like a historian. He knew everyone’s business.”

Dorsett, whose grandparents were South Florida pioneers, died March 2 of congestive heart failure. He was 78.

Born in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood on Sept. 29, 1940, Dorsett was the firstborn child of the late Winfred and Lillie Pearl Dorsett. His grandparents were Herman and Ida Dorsett, who migrated to Miami in the 1900s from the Bahamas and established themselves in Overtown.

Dorsett graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 1958, and Howard University in Washington in 1962.

“He was a nerd before we knew what the term meant,” said Bea Hines, who writes a column for the Miami Herald and grew up with Dorsett. “He was always smart and we always knew he would do something great in his life.”

Also in 1962, Dorsett married his longtime love, Beverly Lenore Clarke, who died unexpectedly in 2002 at age 63.

The pair met at the Greater Bethel AME Church during an Easter program. He was 10; she was 11.

He went on to earn his master’s degree, professional diploma and doctorate from Columbia University in New York.

By that time, he was already a father to Averill.

“My earliest memories are of him at his desk ticking away at a paper,” she said.

Before joining the faculty at Florida International University in 1972, he was an assistant professor of psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia. When the family moved back to South Florida, they settled in Southwest Miami-Dade, not far from FIU’s main campus on Southwest Eighth Street.

Mark Rosenberg, FIU president, said Monday in an email that Dorsett “was part of an elite group of founding professors of our FIU. “

“We are eternally grateful for his passion for his students and his advocacy for the African American community within our university,” he wrote. “He will always be remembered as one of our pioneering colleagues.”

After teaching organizational management for more than three decades, he retired as founding professor in 2004. Dorsett was also the first African American to sit on the Judicial Nominating Commission, his family said. The commission selects nominees to fill judicial vacancies within the Florida court system.

Dorsett, a member and Minton Fellow of the Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity (Alpha Rho Boule) and member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity (Sigma Alpha Chapter), is credited with being a founder and former president of the South Florida Chapter of the Association of Black Psychologists. The group focuses on challenges facing the black community.

His son, Herman II, said his dad was passionate about music.

“He wanted us to be well-rounded,” he said, recalling how his dad took the family to classical music concerts, cathedrals to see pipe organs and arts festivals.

He was instrumental in starting a youth music program at his longtime church, the Church of the Open Door, 6001 NW Eighth Ave., and often would bring in artists to perform for the community.

“He had a love for music and wanted to share that,” said William Clarke III, church deacon and chair of the music committee.

In addition to his daughter Averill, son Herman II and brother Kelsey, Dorsett is survived by his son Darrin, four grandchildren, Herman III, Jayla, Noah and Micah, and his sister Beverly Fonville.

A viewing and wake will be from 5 to 7:30 p.m. March 11 at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, 1881 NW 103rd St. During the Monday viewing, Omega services will be conducted at 6:30 p.m. by Alpha Rho Boulé, Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity. At 7 p.m., Omega services will be conducted by the Sigma Alpha Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. The funeral service will be at 11 a.m. March 12 at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church.

“He was a role model for us,” said Dorothy Jenkins Fields, founder of the Black Archives, History & Research Foundation of South Florida. “After we would hear about all the great things he did, it inspired us to do the best we could.”