Sinister fairies, evil Jedis and monsters crept onto Campus Walk on Halloween morning, all with one thing in common. No one could resist the chubby, honey-loving bear offering candy and hugs.
One day a year Associate Vice President and Dean of Student Life Cedric Rucker ’81 sheds his signature bow tie and seersucker pants to become the iconic Winnie the Pooh. It’s not just a costume for Rucker. He sees it as part of his job – spreading friendship, community and care – for the past 15 years.
“Pooh and Dean Rucker are just two very happy, jolly people,” said senior Mikey Barnes. “Walking down Campus Walk and seeing this prominent figure dressed up as Winnie the Pooh … I look forward to it every year.”
In 1977, when Rucker was a Mary Wash freshman, “Halloweens” was a giant affair, with revelers from schools near and far making their way onto campus. They came as M&Ms, policemen and the complete cast of Star Wars, Rucker remembered. And with the release of the feature film Animal House the following year, “I cannot tell you the amount of togas people wore,” he said.
After earning a master’s degree in sociology from the University of Virginia, Rucker returned to his alma mater to serve as associate dean of student activities. He’d been promoted to dean of student life by the time he saw Andrew Painter ’02 and Dan Musson ’02 crashing the Fredericksburg Christmas parade, bounding down Caroline Street as two Tiggers.
The Disney-esque costume planted a seed for Rucker, who tracked down a matching Pooh suit. Its fuzzy exterior and built-in mittens are a great fit for fall. The cut-out up top shows Rucker’s face and big smile.
Painter was surprised to learn recently that he’d inspired the long-running tradition, but he wasn’t shocked to hear that Rucker’s still at it. “Cedric cares genuinely for Mary Washington. He cares genuinely for the students,” Painter said. “He loves to bring happiness to everyone.”
The ensemble accommodates the serious side of Rucker’s job, too. He can jump in and out of it to advocate for students, meet with administrators and teach his Monday night sociology class.
In costume, he strolls Campus Walk, spending time at Lee Hall and the University Center, where students stream by between classes. Fresh off of midterms, they stop for selfies with Pooh, candy, hugs and one other thing – words of wisdom.
“Pooh reinforces the values we have as a community,” Rucker said, “respect, student engagement, empowering students to support one another.”
The warmth goes both ways.
Last year, when his mother passed away two days before Halloween, Rucker pushed through his grief to make his annual appearance as Pooh. He announced it on Facebook, and students showed up in throngs.
“The outpouring was incredible,” he said. “I love these people.”