Mourning loss of 17th President
Robert Edward Lee Strider II, the College’s 17th president and life trustee, passed away in Boston on Sunday, November 28, 2010 at the age of 93. Strider served from 1960 to 1979 during a period of great social change both at the College and across the nation.
President William D. Adams said that Strider guided the College through “one of the most challenging times in its history, and in many ways Colby’s national reputation is his legacy.”
Strider introduced the January Program of Independent Study, or JanPlan, to the College’s curriculum, which is an innovative academic program that has since been adopted by many peer institutions. He helped bring the residential co-education to the College and “broadened the curriculum to include foreign study opportunities, interdisciplinary studies and non-Western and Black studies,” according to his obituary.
It was during his leadership on the Hill that the Ford Foundation elected the College as one of 18 “centers of academic excellence,” awarding the College a “two-for-one matching grant of $1.8 million, an amount nearly six times greater than any gift the College had ever received,” according to his obituary. The gift helped Colby become one of the most elite small liberal arts colleges in the United States of America.
Adams said that the Ford grant “brought to Colby its first major recognition from a prominent foundation and bolstered the College’s financial position to allow us to reach far beyond Maine and New England for outstanding students.” Adams continued, saying “He also was president during the extraordinary period when an unpopular war, political assassinations and total upheaval in the way young Americans chose to live their lives blew up everything we knew about how students ought to behave on college campuses. He was clear that those times were often very difficult for him, but his description of things was characteristically low-key. He told me, ‘I think, at times, we lost our sense of humor.’”
According to his obituary, “The many tributes to him included honorary degrees from 11 colleges, including Colby, which presented honorary doctorates to him and his wife upon his retirement in 1979.” Named a Life Trustee of the College, there is also a scholarship created in his name. Strider Theater in Runnals Union “was named in [his family’s] honor, and in recognition of their love of music, especially choral music, the College established the annual Strider Concert. Also in 1979, the Maine Bar Association presented him with its Distinguished Citizen Award. In 2000, the City of Waterville named Strider Avenue for him.” His list of achievements continues.
Born on April 8, 1917, the native West Virginian is survived by his four children: Mary (Bruenn), Robert, William and Elizabeth (Dain); three grandchildren: Marjorie, Katharine and Mary; two great-grandchildren: Zakariya and Joseph; and his sister, Barbara Kuehn, and brother, David Strider.
Strider graduated cum laude from Harvard University in 1939 and the following year, while teaching and studying for his master’s degree, he met Helen M. Bell, whom he married in 1941. Bell passed away in 1995.
Strider served in World War II as an ensign and later as a lieutenant in Navy communications. Discharged in 1946, he began teaching English at Connecticut College and completed his Harvard Ph.D in 1950. He joined the Colby community in 1957 as the dean of faculty before serving 20 years as president, which, at the time, was the longest presidential term the College had seen.
His friends and colleagues on the Hill remember him fondly. John Sweney, a retired English professor, who joined the faculty in 1967 at a time when tensions were mounting surrounding the Vietnam War, said that, “passions were high on both sides, faculty meetings were contentious and good manners were often left at the door. Bob…found himself to the right of the anti-war faculty (which included me), but he kept his temper and presided with dignity while enduring lots of criticism and invective. I always admired him for this, even when I disagreed with him.”
Adjunct Professor of Athletics Dick Whitmore said, “President Strider was [one of] the most erudite and imposing people I have ever met,” and recalled a personal phone call Strider made to congratulate him after his basketball team had won a particularly remarkable game. He “commented that the scene had some connection to a Shakespearian play. At this point he lost me intellectually, but in almost every subsequent meeting through the years he always reminded me of the ‘hallowed halls of Wadsworth Gym on that wonderful Colby night!’ What a presence,” Whitmore said.
Adams said, “Bob extended many personal kindnesses to me and shared in a deeply personal way his profound memories of life at Colby, including those related to living in the President’s House, raising a family here and making his way through the personal challenges of a college presidency. He loved Colby and he was generous with his time and counsel. I will miss him a great deal.”
There will be a memorial service at The Episcopal Church of Our Saviour on 25 Monmouth St., Brookline, Mass., on Sunday, December 5, 2010 at 2:00 p.m. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be donated to the charity of one’s choice, or to: The Helen and Robert E.L. Strider Scholarship Fund, Office of College Relations, Colby College, 4320 Mayflower Hill, Waterville, ME 04901-8843, or to: The President and Fellows of Harvard College/Harvard Choral Endowment, c/o Gary Snerson, 124 Mt. Auburn St., Cambridge, MA 02138.