Tom DiLorenzo: Retired University of North Dakota Provost Murdered in Charleston

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Tom DiLorenzo, a former University of North Dakota provost remembered for his work ethic and care for students, was shot and killed while walking with his wife, also a top educational professional, in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. He was only a month into retirement, and his wife had just started a new job in Charleston.

According to police, the husband was shot “during the robbery attempt” and died later at a hospital; the wife, Dr. Suzanne Austin, recently named provost and executive vice president of academic affairs at the College of Charleston, was physically uninjured. DiLorenzo was 63-years-old.

“Our prayers are with the victim’s family during this terrible time,” Police Chief Luther Reynolds said in the statement. We also want to thank the community for the support they’ve given our investigators in this case.”

“Tom cared,” Former UND President Mark Kennedy told the Grand Forks Herald in a statement. “He cared about his family. He cared about delivering on the mission of higher education to open up opportunities for students and the community…It was never about him, it was about the students, the faculty, the university. The world is a better place because Tom lived.”

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Police Say They’ve Arrested Two Juveniles in DiLorenzo’s Death

In a July 17 news release, Charleston police wrote that they have arrested two juvenile males for the homicide “that occurred early this morning near King Street and Clifford Street in downtown Charleston.”

The suspects are 15 and 16 years old. Their names weren’t released because of their ages. Both are charged with murder and attempted armed robbery; one is also charged with possessing a deadly weapon during the commission of a violent crime, police said.

They are being held in a juvenile detention center, and their hearing will be in front of a family court judge due to their ages, according to police.

Police said the couple was walking near the intersection around 6:15 a.m. when “they were approached by the juveniles. One of the males was armed with a handgun and demanded money from the couple.”

2. DiLorenzo Retired Last Month as Provost of the University of North Dakota, Which Remembered Him as a Man With a ‘Superhuman Work Ethic’

The University of North Dakota remembered DiLorenzo in a lengthy statement, saying that he was a “retired provost and vice president for academic affairs” at the university. Although the police statement didn’t identify the victims, the university statement did, and they have been widely named in the local news media.

“He and his wife, Suzanne Austin, who recently was named provost and executive vice president of academic affairs at the College of Charleston, were targeted in an attempted robbery in Charleston, S.C. During the robbery attempt, Dr. DiLorenzo was shot and later died at the hospital. Dr. Austin was not physically injured,” the statement from the university read, adding, “Tom DiLorenzo retired from UND on June 1 after serving the University of North Dakota for seven years.”

The university said that DiLorenzo, as provost, “served four presidents and devoted great time and energy to advancing UND during difficult budgetary years, always guided by the best interest of our students, faculty, staff and the institution. He worked tirelessly to advance the One UND Strategic Plan, and led initiatives to increase student retention and improve graduation rates. He also strengthened UND’s relationship with the City of Grand Forks and grew internships for students throughout the community. Graduate enrollment is at an all-time high as is the Honors Program and UND’s research portfolio, all of which also were centerpieces of his work.”

“With his superhuman work ethic, Tom gave his heart and soul to the University up until his very last day at UND,” said UND President Andy Armacost. “He led the University’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He initiated programs that strengthened ties between UND and the Grand Forks community. And to improve the academic experience for UND students, he implemented programs that have resulted in better graduation and retention rates. Tom did all that was asked of him and then more. It was the kind of person he was.”

3. DiLorenzo Was Remembered as a Witty, Kind Person Who ‘Truly Cared About the Student Voice’ & Cared About the Arts

Tributes flooded into social media for DiLorenzo.

“I’ve been trying to process this horrible news all afternoon. Over the past year I had the honor of getting to work with Tom,” one woman wrote. “He was always kind, smiling, and typically had something witty to say. He never failed to make students feel welcome and always sought out our thoughts and opinions in meetings because he truly cared about the student voice. He was a huge supporter of education and the arts and I’ll always be thankful that I got to experience working with him and learning from him. UND was lucky to have Provost DiLorenzo. My condolences to his family and his friends❤️.”

The UND statement on DiLorenzo also contained these tributes to him:

“We offer our condolences to Suzanne and the rest of Tom’s family at this very tragic time,” said Mark Hagerott, chancellor of the North Dakota University System. “Dr. DiLorenzo was dedicated to the University of North Dakota for seven years before his recent retirement and his sudden death leaves us to mourn his loss as well as have deep respect and reverence for his service to his campus community.”

“Tom invested in people and challenged them to grow and learn,” said Debbie Storrs, interim provost. “He cared deeply about UND. He encouraged us to think differently, look forward, and envision a better university. He was committed to equity and hired many women into leadership positions. With his leadership, we made great progress at the university in many areas in the past seven years, including improving student success. His new adventure was abruptly ended. It is hard to put to words the sadness, especially in the world we live in today. He will be missed. His impression on UND is felt, and we will continue to think forward. My thoughts are with his family.”

“I worked productively with former provost DiLorenzo for his entire, roughly seven-year tenure at the University of North Dakota,” said Dr. Joshua Wynne, vice president for health affairs, dean of the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences, and former interim president. “He was incredibly helpful during my one-year tenure as interim president. I found him to be a person of high standards and an incredibly hard worker. I am very saddened by his unfortunate passing. I wish his wife and family the most sincere of condolences.”

4. DiLorenzo Was Remembered as a ‘Champion for Innovation, Entrepreneurship’

The Center for Innovation in North Dakota called Tom DiLorenzo “a champion for innovation, entrepreneurship and the UND Center for Innovation.”

“His big vision and get to yes attitude created an opportunity for the Center for Innovation to champion start-ups in the community, faculty commercialization and high impact experiential learning opportunities for students like Student-Run Enterprises, Main St GF, Intern GF, hireUp, and more. He tirelessly worked for innovation, entrepreneurial thinking and creative solutions to challenges. He will be missed deeply and his legacy will carry on in the programs and activities he helped launch at the Center,” a statement on Facebook read.

Another community organization, Evolve Grand Forks, also remembered DiLorenzo, writing that the group “is extremely saddened to learn about the tragic loss of former University of North Dakota Provost Dr. Tom DiLorenzo. He was a true visionary and a great advocate for Grand Forks’ youngest entrepreneurs, he believed in us, a young and developing organization.”

5. DiLorenzo’s Wife Also Has a Long Career in Higher Education & Studies Latin America

DiLorenzo’s wife, Suzanne Austin, began her provost’s job at the College of Charleston only on July 1, 2020.

A statement from that university says she has a “career spanning nearly three decades in academia. Austin, who holds a doctorate in history from Duke University, has spent the last nine years serving as the senior vice provost and senior international officer at the University of Alabama at Birmingham where she has led a series of initiatives focused on student success, faculty development, international programs and online learning.”

Her specialty is studying Latin American history. She wrote a book called, A Pest in the Land: New World Epidemics in a Global Perspective about infectious diseases in Native populations before and after 1492.

“Growing up in Madison, Connecticut, Austin, from a young age, had an interest in learning about new places and people, a curiosity which ultimately drove her to study English and journalism as an undergraduate student at North Carolina State University before pursuing a graduate degree in history from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,” the statement read.

“As she followed her career into academia, Austin became fascinated by the rich history and culture of Latin America – which led her on many international adventures.”

“Since I am a historian of Latin America, I love traveling in that part of the world,” Austin was quoted as saying. “I have lived in Mexico and Ecuador, but I love traveling.”

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