September 2, 2011
It is my very special honor to stand here as president of Bowdoin College to say a few words about another Bowdoin president—Roy Greason—in this place that he loved and to you who were so important in his life.
As 485 new students arrived on campus this week to begin their Bowdoin careers, I continued a tradition that Roy, as president, also observed—greeting each student as they came to sign the Bowdoin matriculation book. As I shared with them the history of Bowdoin, my mind quietly focused on a man who is central to the history of this College and the town of Brunswick. Roy was fundamental to both.
Like many of you, I learned that Roy had passed away as I was preparing for the arrival in Maine of Irene. As I watched the gathering clouds and felt the accelerating winds at my Harpswell home, it struck me as odd that this reserved, dignified, and distinguished man of letters would leave us under such stormy conditions. But perhaps that was just Roy's way—to slip out quietly, without a fuss, as we were all preoccupied with other things.
Unlike many of you, I regret to say that I did not know Roy Greason well. He was Dean of the College when I arrived as a first-year student in the fall of 1968, but our paths didn't really cross until my senior year when I was the student representative to an important College and faculty committee that Roy chaired. Even as a young and idealistic student, I recognized Roy’s skill at navigating through the issues important to academics at Bowdoin and very important to his faculty colleagues. Many years later, when I became president of the College, Roy and Polly were both very kind to me and my family, and I felt fortunate to have his counsel and wisdom and his obvious devotion to Bowdoin so close at hand.
I won't take your time to recount all of the accomplishments in Roy's long and distinguished life, but I do want to mention a few. A graduate of Wesleyan University with a master's degree and doctorate from Harvard, Roy was an 18th century literature scholar who joined the Bowdoin faculty in 1952. His English classes not only educated but also truly inspired generations of Bowdoin students. His hand was everywhere at Bowdoin—as a member of the teaching faculty, Dean of Students, Dean of the College, as faculty representative to the Governing Boards, as a frequent and tireless speaker at alumni events, as acting president, and ultimately as president of the College. Throughout it all, Roy demonstrated profound dedication to the liberal arts and he worked his entire career to ensure that Bowdoin remained a leading American college.
These were not easy years for Bowdoin or the country. The war in Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the assassination of national leaders, the drug culture, the energy crisis, and here at Bowdoin—protests over the war, struggle and disagreement about fraternity life, landmark changes in the curriculum and in what it meant to be an educated citizen, and then coeducation and women's rights, and protests over apartheid in South Africa—all of these and more demanded calm and reasoned leadership. As Dean, and later as president, Roy knew the best way for Bowdoin to lead. Lessons from Roy became important benchmarks for this president of Bowdoin
"It is not the role of a college...to take sides on public issues," he wrote in 1984. "Rather a college is a forum, a marketplace where ideas meet and compete. By tolerating discussion from all perspectives, we try to ensure that the truth, whatever it is, will be heard. That is the function of a college."
This, Roy wrote in response to a call for constitutional protection for equal rights for women and where Bowdoin was asked to take a formal position. His own public position was that equality for women was long overdue and just, and he would ultimately work hard to bring more women faculty to Bowdoin and work to create genuine gender equity at Bowdoin, but he was always careful to say on public issues he was speaking for himself, and not the College. Proper boundaries were important to Roy, and he maintained them with clarity.
This is not to say that he avoided debate or preferred Bowdoin to remain on the sidelines. Far from it.
From this very pulpit in 1983, Roy told those assembled for Baccalaureate, that: "People must be free to speak the truth as they see it in order that our own sense of the truth may be tested and perhaps enlarged."
His charge to seniors that day was to always protect these rights: "As you leave this College behind, may you carry with you a sense of your indebtedness to others who have made intellectual freedom possible for you, and wherever in your wanderings you find that freedom threatened, may you have the courage and the wisdom to be its champion."
Students listened to Roy, because first and foremost, he was a teacher. But he understood that as a teacher, he could not always be a friend to his students. He once told a Chapel filled with students that: "Friendship is a peculiarly close companionship between equals, and, in the academic setting, the teacher, who holds your future at the tip of his red pencil, is not your equal."
In Roy's view, a good teacher offered much more to his students than friendship. A good teacher looks to the future and the ability of a student to think for him or herself. As Roy wrote: "The training of the intellect and the use of the intellect in the search for truth and wisdom are immensely important, so important that they cannot be compromised for anything."
Roy served as president of Bowdoin at the beginning of an era when college presidents typically moved from one school to another or from one region to another, never developing roots in a community or deep connections with the people in that community. But Roy was different. He came to Brunswick in the early 1950s and devoted himself to this community for the rest of his life.
He was a cub master, president of the United Way, a Sunday school teacher, trustee of the Hyde School, president of the Hawthorne School PTA, chairman of the Brunswick School Board, and president of the Bath-Brunswick Mental Health Center. He served on the board of public television in Maine, as mediator of Maine District and Superior Court cases, and on numerous committees in this church. In January 1971—my junior year—he even narrated the story of "Peter and the Wolf" during a public performance by the Boston Ballet Company in Pickard Theater.
In 1985, while serving as Bowdoin's president, Roy was named Citizen of the Year by the local Chamber of Commerce. It was very public recognition of his immense and ongoing commitment of service to this community. I think it's fair to say that Roy Greason loved this town, where he lived with his wife, Polly—another prodigiously involved citizen, and where together they raised their three children, Randy, Kathy, and Doug.
As I've already stated, Roy was, first and foremost, a teacher, and as a member of the faculty, he gained the affection and respect of his colleagues. During these past few days, those who knew Roy best— his students, many of his colleagues, trustees and alumni of the College— have been sharing their memories on a website the College created for that purpose. We also reached out to some senior members of the Bowdoin faculty—some of whom can't be here this morning because they are teaching—Roy would understand. I want to share a few of their thoughts with you.
From John Turner:
"Roy had a wonderful kind of elegance and civility that might seem old-fashioned now. When you sent him a letter of any kind you always, always got an answer—he answered in longhand the next day. He answered his own phone. He was a scholar and a gentleman. He always dressed formally, and he loved Bowdoin. He looked you straight in the eye and gave you a straight answer. The downside of Roy was that he didn't put his foot in it...he didn't make inappropriate jokes."
From Steve Cerf:
"It's true, Roy couldn't read a budget [but] he was a savior of the College and provided a decade of stability. He had a far-reaching, very loyal memory, and a profound partnership with his wife, Polly. He was very tolerant and progressive, representing the best of 18th century enlightenment. [And] if you look at the pictures in the College archives—the early ones—he had movie star looks!"
From Al Fuchs:
"[Roy] was a gentle and sharp man and very giving, very generous. I served on the UNE Board of Trustees after him. Roy suggested me [and] he encouraged me to do these things. Otherwise, I might not have done [them]. He said: 'Go help the university out, see what you can do.' That was his attitude: 'Give. Don't just sit around, do something.'"
From Rachel Connely:
"It was my first week...at Bowdoin. I found myself walking across the quad with Roy. [As] we passed the chapel...he was reminiscing in a positive way about how they used to have chapel every week, that it was a requirement. I said to him, [in those days], I wouldn't have been allowed to be here because they didn't have women and they didn't have Jews. I think he was shocked that a junior faculty member would say that to him, but he recovered and got it exactly. He understood that you can celebrate the past, but that we were [now] in a better place."
From Bill Waterson:
"When I think back on Roy, I remember his civility when I was an untenured professor...he'd invite us to his place in Harpswell, we'd have lunch, go for a swim, talk about literature. He was kind to junior people. He was able to take correction gracefully [and] his colleagues could contradict him. When he was inaccurate he could accept that. He had an ironic sense of humor [and] that Eleanor Roosevelt quality. [He] could talk to anybody in an honest, gracious way. He had the common touch."
And finally, from Randy Stakeman's Facebook page:
"At one point I was secretary of the Curriculum and Educational policy committee. I got a little tired of sending out the customary meeting announcements and so for our next meeting I wrote "The moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars so our next meeting will be on Monday at 3:30." Roy, as President, chaired the meeting. He showed up with a wizard's hat and a wand saying simply he thought it was appropriate. That was the Roy Greason of the sly humor I will remember most."
Randy, Kathy, and Doug, what we will all remember most about your father is his passion for learning, his devotion to family and community, his faith in young people, his dedication to Bowdoin College, his principled leadership, his civility, and yes, his sly sense of humor.
We mourn his loss with you and your families, and we thank you for giving up so much of your time with him so that he could lead and help shape our College and this community.