USC Trustee Barbara J. Rossier, namesake of the USC Rossier School of Education, died on Aug. 11 following a valiant battle with lung cancer. She was 78.
Rossier, a prominent educator and entrepreneur, was president of the Orange County-based Rossier Educational & Mental Health Enterprises Inc., which provides mental health services to public and private schools. As a licensed clinical and educational psychologist, she was also a highly respected consultant regarding children and adults with learning and mental health issues.
“The entire Trojan Family mourns the passing of Barbara Rossier,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias. “With her extraordinary energy, unshakable integrity and abiding commitment to providing excellent educational opportunities for everyone, she was an inspiration to us all.”
A USC alumna twice over, Rossier (née Sharp) received a master’s degree in educational guidance from USC in 1962. In 1964, she went to work as a school counselor at Westminster High School, where she met her future husband, fellow Trojan alumnus Roger Rossier. In 1969, as a young couple with two growing boys, the Rossiers returned to USC to pursue doctoral studies. Barbara Rossier completed her M.Ed. degree in 1970 and her EdD in 1971; Roger followed with his EdD in 1972.
The Rossiers’ entrepreneurial spirit and expertise in serving children with academic, social and emotional disabilities laid the groundwork for what soon became a multimillion-dollar enterprise. In 1980, they purchased a small private school for children with special needs, building it into one of the largest special-education schools in the state.
Over the years, they also operated an infant preschool program; became involved in educational publishing; ran an educational travel agency; created a private counseling practice for students with special vocational or educational needs; and established a real estate venture serving schools, churches and other tenants. Barbara Rossier also served for a time on the faculty of the University of California, Irvine, as a clinical professor of psychiatry.
In September 1998, Barbara and Roger Rossier committed $20 million to the USC School of Education, at the time believed to be the largest gift ever made to an education school in the United States. In recognition of their generosity and commitment to promoting excellence in education, the USC Board of Trustees voted to rename the then 90-year-old school the USC Barbara J. and Roger W. Rossier School of Education.
That landmark contribution was a catalyst for remarkable progress over the next 15 years. Today, USC Rossier is one of the world’s premier centers for graduate study in urban education, ranked 17th among graduate schools of education by U.S. News & World Report.
“Barbara Rossier’s impact on USC Rossier is very significant, and I am so grateful for her generous commitment to the school, our students and our graduates,” said Dean Karen Symms Gallagher. “She will be missed.”
A USC trustee since 1999, Barbara Rossier chaired USC Rossier’s Board of Councilors from 1990 to 2010. She was a past member of the USC Alumni Association Board of Governors and a chairman-level member of the USC Associates, the university’s premier academic support group, having previously served on the USC Associates Board of Directors. Rossier was honored with an Alumni Service Award from the USC Alumni Association in 1992, and the USC Rossier School of Education presented her with its ROSE (Recognition of Outstanding Service in Education) Award in 1996.
Rossier’s community service also included membership on the boards of directors of the Orange County High School of the Arts and the Pacific Symphony Orchestra.
Rossier is survived by her husband and two sons, Dan and Steve; grandchildren Jennifer, Seth and Sophia; and daughters-in-law Linda and Anne.
A viewing is planned for Aug. 16 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Fairhaven Memorial Park and Mortuary in Santa Ana, followed by a memorial service at noon on Aug. 17.
A private celebration of Barbara Rossier’s life will be held on the USC campus on Oct. 23.
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