Dr. David Egbo Ugwu, a longtime academic and community leader in the Houston area, died on Friday, Dec. 23rd at Oasis nursing facility of complications from a heart attack. He was 72. He is survived by his wife of 44 years, Dr. Patricia Ugwu, three children — Chiugo David, Adaeze, and Oguejiofor (Reggie), daughter-in-law, Brady — and a large extended family of sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews. His youngest child, Chidi, died in 2014.
Dr. Ugwu settled with his family in Houston in 1994. Known for his gregariousness and generosity, he quickly became a fixture of the city’s formidable Nigerian immigrant community. He was a proud member of many social organizations, including the Nkanu Association, where he was the founding president, Houston Enugu State Association (HESO), where he was president, and the Igbo People’s Congress, where he served as chairman of the board.
In his work, Dr. Ugwu dedicated himself to improving access to quality education for the underprivileged. He was an administrator for research and grants at Galveston College and later worked for more than a decade at Houston Community College — including as Coordinator of Systems Workforce Research Projects and Assistant to the Chancellor for Institutional Effectiveness and Special Projects — until his retirement in 2010, after a stroke.
Before moving to Texas, Dr. Ugwu was an ambitious dreamer, traveler, and pioneer who spent time living in five other states—Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Arizona, and Ohio. He was born on December 6, 1950, in the village of Umuatugbuoma in Enugu, Nigeria, the last son of Chief Ugwunwamba Ugwu and the only child of Ujo Mgbankwo. At 17, he joined the Biafran Army and served as an infantryman and intelligence officer in the Nigerian Civil War, from 1967 to 1970. He later finished his secondary education and earned a scholarship to Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan, to which he applied through the American Embassy in Lagos.
In the United States, with no money or connections, Dr. Ugwu supported himself through school. He worked as a long-haul truck driver, a security guard, and an ice cream man, the latter of which once led to his being robbed at gunpoint. In the summer of 1975, employed as a door-to-door salesman for the reference-book publisher The Southwestern Company, he received a special citation for working more than 75 hours per week. He graduated from Michigan Tech with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 1978, and later earned a degree in mechanical engineering (from Southern Illinois University), an M.B.A. (from Governors State University), and a Ph.D in Higher Education (also from Southern Illinois University).
Along the way, Dr. Ugwu married Patricia and became a devoted husband and father to his four children. He regarded his family as his greatest accomplishment and was an infectious cheerleader at gatherings and celebrations. After his stroke in 2010, and a subsequent heart attack in the spring of 2022, he leaned on his wife, who cared for him selflessly, and his daughter, Adaeze, who stayed close by his side until his final breath. His memory lives on in all of his children, extended family, and in the innumerable friends, colleagues, and compatriots who were warmed by the light of his irrepressible spirit.