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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Remarks at Faculty/Staff Memorial Service

Category: University Events
April, 2018
Chapel + Cultural Center

Faculty/Staff Memorial Service

Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Good morning. It is a privilege to join you. I thank the Pillars of Rensselaer for planning this memorial service.

I wish to welcome, especially, the families of the men and women whom we honor today. Thank you for being here. You have my deepest sympathies for your loss.

Today, we light candles for our faculty and staff, both current and retired, who died during the last year. In a moment, we will eulogize those who died while in service to Rensselaer:

  • Computer Operator Robert Petersen of DotCIO;

  • Professor Lois Peters of the Lally School of Management, who directed our Technology Commercialization and Entrepreneurship program; and

  • Ford Foundation Professor Joyce McLaughlin of the Department of Mathematical Sciences, who directed our Inverse Problems Center.

Please allow me to say a few words about some of the other men and women we lost this past year. Most recently, Professor Joseph Flaherty, former Dean of Science, and the Amos Eaton Professor of Computer Science, passed away. Among them also were several former leaders of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, including President Emeritus Roland W. Schmitt and his wife Claire Schmitt, an ardent naturalist and environmentalist. Dr. Schmitt served as our 16th President from 1988 to 1993. In 1997, a grateful Rensselaer awarded him an honorary doctoral degree, and in October of 1999, we inducted him into our Alumni Hall of Fame.

Although I did not have the privilege of working with Dr. Schmitt, I was honored to offer a eulogy at his memorial service held here on campus. He came to Rensselaer after a long and distinguished career at GE, including heading its Research and Development Center, where he oversaw the work of over 2,000 scientists. He was persuaded by the Board to accept the Presidency of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at a moment of financial duress for the university. During his five-year tenure as President, he instituted more businesslike practices, and, working alongside Trustee and former Chair of the Board of Trustees of Rensselaer, Samuel F. Heffner Jr. of the Class of 1956, he helped to put Rensselaer on a firmer financial footing.

We also lost Sam Heffner himself this year, a dear friend of mine. Sam’s Rensselaer architecture degree prepared him for a career as a leading real estate developer. Most notably, he helped the Baltimore area to use its transportation assets, such as the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, to attract residents, businesses, and jobs. Sam joined our Board of Trustees in 1977, and served as its Chairman for 15 years, beginning in 1995. I always will be grateful to Sam for bringing me to Rensselaer in 1999, and for supporting my leadership.

Never wavering once, he backed The Rensselaer Plan, which embodied the vision I had for Rensselaer, and which laid out the strategic blueprint we developed, as a community, for a Renaissance at Rensselaer—even during the economic downturns in 2000 and 2008, when a lesser board chair might have decided that the Rensselaer Plan was too ambitious. But when Sam decided that a concept was right, he could not be dissuaded from making it a reality. He was a man who quietly transformed everything he touched for the better.

This year, we also lost Worth Loomis, who served, for 14 years, as Trustee of The Hartford Graduate Center, which is now named Rensselaer at Hartford, before being tapped as its President in 1989 and serving with great distinction until 1993. As the longtime president of the Dexter Corporation, he was one of Hartford’s most important and forward-thinking business leaders—and he used this experience to elevate the education Rensselaer offers the next generation of technological entrepreneurs and managers.

We lost, as well, Colonel Frank Tarbell of the United States Army, who ended a distinguished 30-year military career as Professor of Military Science at Rensselaer; and we lost longtime Professor of Environmental Engineering Donald Aulenbach.

We lost a number of staff members as well, who helped to make Rensselaer a family. Though I never knew Grace Eiseman Filley, who worked at Rensselaer for a few years after World War II and served our 11th President, Livingston Houston—her obituary tells me that her life was filled with family, skiing, tennis, sailing, scenic drives—and gratitude for the many beauties of this part of the world, and for the wonderful people around her. In other words, she was identifiably Rensselaer—always ready for the next adventure, always exploring, always interested in seeing, doing, and learning.

We have lost others who not only made us family, but who brought their families to Rensselaer, including Tom Griffin, whose wife Pat and daughter Traci also became longtime employees, and Rocco Tozzi, whose son Rocky retired in 2016 from the Rensselaer Physical Plant.

All of the people we memorialize today were partners in the most important work in the world—which is educating talented young people, so they, too, can have wonderful lives and careers, and improve the human condition, each in his or her own way.

The men and women we honor today remind us that although we may be very different people, with very different stories—we are joined in that mission and in the great sense of warmth and meaning attached to it. We truly are family.

I thank all of you for being with us today. And I thank you for lending your loved ones, for a time, to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute—where we always will remember them gratefully, for helping us to change the world.