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(OXFORD, Miss.) – The late Virginia Cantú , a research compliance specialist with the University of Mississippi Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, will be remembered as an agent for positive change through her professional and personal contributions. That legacy will continue as graduate students in the sciences receive assistance through a fund endowed in her name.

The Virginia Dolores Cantú Fellowship Endowment – which was created by Joe Turner Cantú and Eddie J. Upton as well as through memorial contributions from family and friends – will provide assistance to graduate students who exhibit commitment to the value of laboratory animal research and importance of humane care of research animals.

“Through her work and her volunteer efforts, Virginia Cantú  brought about positive changes for our university and community that will serve as lasting reminders of her many contributions,” said Alice Clark, UM vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs. “She constantly thought about how to make our work, our environment and our community better and more helpful to those we serve. Virginia challenged us all to see things a bit differently, step outside our comfort zones, and be better people. This fellowship honoring her memory is a legacy that will enable others to pursue their education and become, as she was, an agent for change.”

Thomas Lombardo, director of Research Integrity and Compliance in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, explained the impact of contributions made by Cantú before her death in October 2009, including her work to help the university gain accreditation from the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International.

“We had worked steadily toward accreditation of our animal care and use program for seven years,” he said. “This accreditation verifies that a program goes well beyond the standards set by the federal regulations. Earning that accreditation is perhaps Virginia’s greatest legacy to the university; the letter notifying the university of the decision to award accreditation came just days after her death.

“Virginia was active in the main email forum for animal research administrators – at first seeking advice but later providing advice. She really helped the university gain national recognition by offering our solutions, policies and procedures to others in that forum,” Lombardo said.

Joe Turner Cantú, a UM associate professor of theatre arts, said he and Upton decided the day Virginia died after a brief illness to establish the fellowship endowment.

“Virginia wasn’t just my loving sister; she also was a lifelong friend and one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever known. She moved through every day with a generous spirit and a fierce kindness, almost as fierce as her strong sense of justice. She put a lot of energy into her work and she loved Ole Miss. Virginia and I came from a family that instilled in us the importance of education and the idea that the best way to give back is to support students and their dreams.”

Upton – a UM system analyst manager who with Joe Turner Cantú also has endowed a theatre arts scholarship – said, “Virginia had a very giving nature – giving everything she could to her family, friends and community organizations. She devoted a great deal of her time to volunteer work, and she did it because she loved helping people.”

“The fact that we’ve already reached the initial amount needed to endow the fellowship is a testament to Virginia that so many people loved her. She was a force in people’s hearts. She valued love above everything,” Cantú said.

Among her community service commitments, Virginia Cantú was vice chair of the board overseeing the North Central Mississippi Service Center of the American Red Cross. She was an avid supporter of the arts and was a prolific poet and artist herself, creating more than 1,000 drawings.

Prior to joining the university in 2004, Virginia Cantú served as a social services specialist for Migrant Head Start in Washington, D.C., a position that took her all over the country to assist children of migrant workers.

The Virginia Dolores Cantú Fellowship Endowment is open to accept gifts through the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Avenue, Oxford, MS 38655. Checks should be written to the Foundation with the Cantú Fellowship Endowment noted. Individuals may also visit the website to support the fund.

Tina Hahn


Online gifts for the 2024 calendar year should be made no later than noon on December 31, 2024.  Checks by mail will need to be postmarked by December 31 to be counted in the 2024 calendar year.