Joseph Greene, a professor at Augusta State University, died at Trinity Hospital after a long bout with colon cancer. He was 67.
Mr. Greene was one of only two blacks to serve as chairman of the University System Board of Regents.
He broke the color barrier on the McDuffie County Board of Education in the 1970s and was the first black president of the Augusta Rotary Club.
"We lost a tremendous man and a tremendous leader," said ASU colleague Ralph Walker upon hearing of Mr. Greene's death.
Mr. Greene was a "tremendous role model for any student," he said.
In his memoir, From Cotton Fields to Board Rooms , Mr. Greene recounted the nearly 50-year journey that would culminate with his becoming head of the board that shapes higher education for the state.
"You can make a difference, but you can't do it generally on the outside," Mr. Greene said in a 2005 interview with The Augusta Chronicle . "You've got to get on the inside. And you can't be held hostage to the past, but you've got to try to get in there and maneuver and network and study the tide and then be able to roll with the tide. And in no way compromise your principles."
He was Augusta State's Customer Service Champion and ASU's Cree Walker Professor of Business.
He was a mentor, Augusta State spokeswoman Kathy Schofe said.
"He just had such a wonderful sense of responsibility and giving back," she said. "He was the first on a number of things."
"It is a real loss not only to the university, but to the community and the state," Ms. Schofe said.
Mr. Greene's wife, Barney, said she and her husband enjoyed a wonderful life together.
"It was beautiful. It was special," she said Monday night. "He was my perfect husband."
Staff writers Mike Wynn and Timothy Cox contributed to this story.