James Avery at the 2nd Annual WinterFluffBall partnered with Grey Goose to celebrate and support the Best Friends Animal Society at Private Residence on January 22, 2011 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision/AP Images)
The University of California, San Diego is set to host a special memorial on Mar. 1 for late actor James Avery, an alumnus of the university who often returned to his alma mater as a guest, performer and commencement speaker over the course of his life.
Avery – best known for his role as Philip “Uncle Phil” Banks alongside Will Smith on the popular ‘90s NBC sitcom, “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” – died in Glendale, Calif., on Dec. 31, 2013, due to complications from open heart surgery. He was 68 years old.
The actor, whose film credits included “Fletch,” “The Prince of Egypt” and “8 Million Ways to Die,” was also a poet and writer.
He graduated from UC San Diego’s Thurgood Marshall College, or Third College, in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in drama and literature, according to the university.
He frequently returned to the La Jolla campus for different events. In June 2012, for instance, Avery was a speaker at multiple commencement ceremonies.
Together with his wife of 26 years, Barbara Avery, who’s a 1974 alumna of UCSD, Avery also established the “James Avery Scholarship” in support of African American students studying performing arts at UC San Diego.
Avery was a scholarship recipient himself while he attended the university in the ‘70s.
Avery served in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969. After leaving the Navy, he settled in San Diego and began writing TV scripts and poetry for PBS. He won an Emmy for production and then received a scholarship to UC San Diego, thus beginning this time as a proud UCSD Triton.
UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla said Avery won’t soon be forgotten.
“James Avery was a talented artist, and a strong champion of our campus and our students. He established a legacy of support for future student artists with the ‘James Avery Scholarship,’ an endowed fund that will continue to help generations of students,” said Khosla.
Allan Havis, provost of Thurgood Marshall College, seconds that sentiment and is proud to call Avery an alumnus.
“James represents the best attributes of our college in his stellar achievements as an artist, as a
social activist and Navy veteran, and as a philanthropist helping younger generations of college students in the performing arts,” said Havis.
The university’s tribute to Avery will take place at 2 p.m. on Mar. 1 at the Mandell Weiss Forum on campus. It will include an afternoon of theater, live music, personal reflections and poetry readings in the actor’s honor, followed by a reception.
UC San Diego artists, alums and friends of Avery will perform and attend the event, including Daphne Maxwell-Reid, the actress who played Avery’s TV wife, Vivian Banks, on “Fresh Prince,” according to organizers.
The memorial is free and open to the public.
Meanwhile, the university said Avery’s loved ones have established a new scholarship in his name, the “James Avery Memorial Scholarship,” to honor Avery’s achievements and support the dreams of future UC San Diego undergraduate students pursuing studies in performing arts.
To register or donate a gift to the memorial scholarship, visit this website.