August 28, 2011
To Members of the Bowdoin Community,
It is with profound sadness that I report the death of A. LeRoy Greason Jr., a dedicated educator and gifted leader who devoted 38 years to Bowdoin as a professor, dean, and president. During his 10-year presidency, he expanded and strengthened academic offerings, increased the size and diversity of the faculty, and established strong ties between the College, alumni, and the community. His greatest gift was his ability to find common ground among disparate people and to inspire them to work together. Bowdoin is a stronger, more humane place because of his service.
Roy died early this morning at Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick, where he had been recuperating after breaking his hip earlier this summer. He was 88 years old. Roy is survived by his three children, Randall, Katherine, and Douglas, and four grandchildren. His wife, Pauline “Polly” Schaaf Greason, predeceased him in 2007.
Roy was born September 13, 1922, in Newport, R.I., and grew up in Wellesley, Mass. He graduated from Wellesley High School, and earned his bachelor’s degree with high honors at Wesleyan University in 1945 as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He went on to earn a master’s degree and doctorate from Harvard University in 1954.
He came to Bowdoin in 1952 as an instructor of English with a specialty in 18th century English literature and was named full professor in 1966. As his teaching career flourished, he began taking on administrative duties and was chosen by President James Coles to fill the newly created position of dean of students in 1962. He became Dean of the College four years later. In 1975 he resigned as dean to resume teaching full-time.
Five years later, the Trustees called on him once again. Roy agreed to serve as acting president on the condition that he not be just a placeholder, but that he be authorized to immediately begin work on restoring the College’s confidence in its governance. The Trustees’ search committee was so impressed with Roy’s leadership as acting president that they nominated him to accept the post, and in 1981 he became the 12th president of Bowdoin College.
Roy’s presidency was a productive one. During his term, the College strengthened its traditional liberal arts curriculum and expanded its offerings to include interdisciplinary programs such as environmental studies, arctic studies, and Asian studies. Distribution requirements were reestablished, computer science programs were enhanced, more emphasis was placed on developing first-year writing skills, and greater challenges were offered to upperclassmen in advanced courses. The faculty was increased from 100 to 125, and the number of women on tenure track became equal to the number of men.
He led an ambitious and successful $56 million capital campaign, providing a $15 million boost in the scholarship endowment and doubling the alumni fund. The endowment almost tripled in value while divesting in companies that did business in South Africa. A new athletic facility was constructed—where Greason Pool was named for him—and work began on the new Hatch Science Library. He also embarked on several studies of student life and the status of fraternities.
Roy was equally devoted to his work outside of Bowdoin. He served as secretary/treasurer of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, as chair of the Brunswick School Committee, and as a trustee of the Hyde School. In 1985 the Brunswick Area Chamber of Commerce named him Citizen of the Year for his work in the community. In 1987 he was honored with the endowment of an academic chair in his name to benefit the creative arts at Bowdoin. He was awarded honorary degrees by Wesleyan University, Colby, and Bates colleges, the University of New England, and the University of Maine at Presque Isle. In 1990, the year he retired, Bowdoin awarded him a Doctor of Humane Letters. He served as a trustee for the University of New England, the Portland Stage Company, the Maine Historical Society, and the Maine Public Broadcasting Network. Roy was president of the Bath-Brunswick Area Mental Health Association and served as chair of the Maine Governor's advisory commissions on Mental Health and Teacher Certification. He was also involved with the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar as a member of the Fee Arbitration Committee.
Roy is perhaps best described by his own words in the 1981 Baccalaureate address he made as acting president: “We are seldom absolutely right. Even when most alive and living beyond ourselves, we had best walk humbly with our gods.”
Memorial arrangements for Roy Greason are pending, and we will communicate details as soon as they become available.
Meanwhile, I know that each of you joins me in offering heartfelt condolences to the Greason family at this sad time, as well as the gratitude of the entire Bowdoin community for Roy's dedicated service to our College.