In my sixty years’ experience in education, I had the fortune of getting to know personally many university presidents, East and West. Among them, Chancellor Danforth stands out as a most admired leader. He is known for his academic excellence, administrative accomplishments, vision, sincerity and kindness. His devotion to the cause of humanity and his long service are remarkable.
I came to Washington University as a graduate student in 1962 but did not get the chance to meet Professor Danforth then until the early 1980’s, when Chancellor Danforth hosted a reception for alumni at the Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong. That was a very enthusiastic and memorable event. My last visit with Emeritus Chancellor Danforth was on October 3rd, last year, during the inauguration ceremony of the 15th Chancellor Andrew Martin.
Alumni, old and young, have very fond memories of Chancellor Danforth. The University’s main campus will serve as an enduring monument to this giant in higher education. Generations of future alumni will learn about the university’s 13th chancellor William Danforth and be deeply inspired and motivated by what he did for their alma mater.
We were saddened to learn that American Youth Foundation (AYF) champion and lifelong pursuer of his best Dr. William “Bill” Danforth passed away. As the grandson of AYF founder William H. Danforth, Bill spent childhood summers at Miniwanca and stayed directly involved in AYF programs and planning throughout his entire life. He actively served on the board for 57 years. Bill was a hands-on, full-hearted supporter of the AYF’s mission to inspire youth to live lives of purpose. He always believed that, if we did our work well, the greatest result of an AYF experience was inspiration. No one has inspired us more than Bill Danforth.
For more, visit the AYF tribute to Dr. Danforth.
Anna Kay Vorsteg
President, American Youth Foundation
When I came to St. Louis in order to study Political Science in the academic year of 1981-82, the foreign students were welcomed at Stix International House. Year after year William Danforth delivered a speech to the foreigners there. He spoke very clearly and slowly so that everyone who came from abroad and was admitted to Washington University should be able to understand him. As I had never seen the president of Hamburg University where I had studied during the three previous years, I took this encounter as an unexpected sign of Dr. Danforth’s personal kindness.
Chancellor Danforth was a genuinely good-natured soul, who did, in fact, know me and address me by name, an amazing and endearing feat, considering how many undergrads there were to keep track of. While obviously from a wealthy family, he drove a plain-jane, no-chrome 70’s Chevy with no air-conditioning either, kind of a hair-shirt penance in St. Louis summers. Didn’t bother him to walk around the car and roll down the windows to air out the furnace that built up as the car baked in the sun. He didn’t have a reserved parking space, despite several being marked for Administration, back then, just below Brown Hall. He’d park wherever, sometimes down by Givens Hall. He enjoyed the walk, chatting with whomever he encountered, so I think that chatty attitude is where the Uncle Bill thing derived from. He was unfussy, almost to the point of reveling in his reverse status symbolism and placing others needs before his own.
One of my campus jobs, in the late 70’s and early 80’s, was delivering Student Life newspaper bundles to various buildings at both campuses, and the South 40, after fetching them from Donnelly Publishing, way out in Maryland Heights, by the airport. Sometimes the press run was late, or, the winter weather was appalling; getting there and back could be harrowing. And Brookings Hall was one of the hardest buildings to get to. But no matter how late, one of us would run two heavy bundles up to the second floor and call out “paper delivery” before dashing back down the stairs, because we knew how much he counted on getting a copy. Cell phones and on-line media didn’t exist yet, in 1978, so paper layout was manual pages which were photo-engraved onto plates, and finally newsprint. We had no practical way to communicate weather or press issues. Sometimes the Student Life office would get a phone call, wondering if we had skipped Brookings Hall that morning. No, just that chain-reaction pile-up on 1-270, delaying but not deterring the morning paper. Sometimes we were so late we’d have to skip Olin Library, a lung-busting sprint from the perimeter road. Never skip Brookings Hall, however, do not disappoint Uncle Bill. He is still curious, amused and laughing good-naturedly at our challenges in my fond memories of those great undergrad years.
In 1987-88 I served as WashU senior class president, which meant I got to meet often and accompany Chancellor Danforth in a variety of meetings, meals, and ceremonies. As my graduation grew near, it finally dawned on me not only how huge his job was but also how much time he had spent with me. When I mentioned it in one of our chats, he answered, “The most important person in the room is a matter of perspective.” It’s among the most important things I’ve learned and now attempt to live myself.
I am saddened to hear that Chancellor Danforth has passed away. He will be missed by so many.
During my time (BS 76) the WU community was (and still is) full of staff, administrators, and faculty with a deep sense of community and a nurturing spirit. Each student saw a different subset of this family, but “Uncle Bill” belonged to all of us. He was the personification of that community spirit. His face was easily recognized by students the next day when one night it was meticulously reconstructed on the Brookings clock face.
I do not believe that I ever personally met and talked with Bill Danforth while I was on campus. Like so many other students I remember seeing him on campus and listening to his bedtime stories in the swamp.
At the time I was too young and too caught up in the business of being a student to really appreciate him and the culture he encouraged. But he wrote letters to the WU diaspora – many letters – while he was chancellor. I recall that at some point I even had a small book that published some of his letters.
Sadly I have lost that book but the power of his words remains in my memory. I learned through those letters how special he was. He was able to convey his deep commitment to the University, and to show us how we remained part of the University long after graduation. He gave so much to our community and was an inspiration.
Thank you Uncle Bill.
We at Parents as Teachers are saddened by the news of Chancellor Danforth’s passing. Through his family’s Danforth Foundation, and his continued personal support, Dr. Danforth was an important part of the history of Parents as Teachers. The Danforth Foundation funded the initial pilot project for Parents as Teachers in Missouri over 35 years ago, which helped launch the program, first statewide in Missouri and then nationally and even internationally. Literally millions of families with young children throughout Missouri and the entire country have benefited as a result of the Danforths’ generous support. What a legacy!
Senior Director of Projects and Grants Management, Parents as Teachers
Bill was by far the very best boss I ever had. We interacted a lot when I was chair of the History Department and while we didn’t always agree, he never failed to treat me with the utmost respect. I particularly admired his defense of academic freedom, one of the many things that made his leadership of the university so outstanding. He leaves an unmatched legacy that will be hard to match and will be sorely missed by all the many whose lives he touched.
On joining Washington University in 1981, I was delighted to have Dr. Danforth as my Chancellor. Bill cared about St Louis, he cared about Washington University, and he cared about every individual within the University community. Not only was he charming, he was a person of the highest integrity, calling forth that same standard of honesty, compassion and generosity in all those around him, as we worked hard to live up to his expectations for us and for the University. Bill’s encouragement and support helped us all to accomplish more, enriching our lives in many ways. He will be missed by all, but remembering his example will always help me to do the right thing.
Sarah (Sally) C R Elgin
During one of my summer breaks from WashU, I was working at the American Youth Foundation’s Camp Miniwanca. Chancellor Danforth came to visit, and a camp staff member asked him what he did for work. He responded simply that he “worked at Washington University,” in that humble and gracious way of his. He gave his wisdom, time and energy to Wash U (and to the AYF) and he never bragged about his role or his legacy.
William Danforth cared deeply about the intellectual life on the WashU campus and he followed the achievements of individual students and faculty. WashU’s Putnam Mathematical Competition Team often had excellent results. Dr. Danforth always took time out from his extremely busy schedule to write warm personal letters to the math students and to me (as a coach of the math team) to express his delight with WashU’s performance and to express his gratitude for these contributions to campus life at WashU.
I had the privilege of reconnecting with Chancellor Danforth a few years ago. I was so moved by our interaction that I wrote a tribute piece which I shared with him, along with the book Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek. I treasure my time spent with him then … powerful moments with a powerful man. Here is the essay I wrote about him ….
I’m a helper.
I’ve known this about myself since I was a young girl … the oldest child in my family always helping the younger ones.
I knew it when I heard Senator John Danforth speak during a government field trip day when I was in high school. I was impressed by his presence and posture, but I paid more attention to the posse of people surrounding the Senator. I wanted to know how I could become one of them … an aide, a staffer. Poised, knowledgeable, needed.
I wrote to the Senator to inquire as to the background and training needed to become a senatorial staff member. He returned my letter, suggesting law school as an appropriate educational pathway.
I applied to and was accepted by Washington University, where my mother had gone before me … the first in her family to go to college. I intended to study English and then attend law school.
I moved into my freshman residence hall on a hot summer day in August 1986. Because of my “legacy” status as the child of an alum, my parents and I were invited to attend a special luncheon that day. This event was hosted by Chancellor William Danforth … the brother of Senator Danforth. The Chancellor and his wife had been visible throughout that day for new student move-in. My parents and I, hot and sweaty from trudging up and down flights of stairs, did our best to “freshen up” for lunch.
I don’t remember what was served for lunch. I recall the event was outside and that I enjoyed a very nice meal with my parents. However, the memory that will always be etched in my impressionable, eighteen-year-old brain is observing Chancellor Danforth standing at the very end of the lunch line.
He ate last.
I grew up with “helpers” as my role models … my father as a minister and my mother as a public school teacher. I observed many demonstrated examples and internalized numerous messages of putting others first.
It took this example of lunch-line behavior from Dr. Danforth for me to understand the valuable lesson. Here was someone of privilege and stature, demonstrating humility and true servant leadership. I knew I was in the right place.
Chancellor Danforth read bedtime stories to the freshmen during orientation that year and for many years following. A wing-back chair and lamp were set up on the corner of a patio, and students gathered on the grassy patch known as the “Swamp” to listen to his soothing voice read poetry or literature.
I ended up switching my major as well as my plans for law school. After becoming involved on campus as an Orientation Leader, Student Admissions Committee member and a Resident Advisor, I felt called to study education.
After gaining a master’s degree in higher education and spending several years in college administration, I became interested in architectural design. I have served as a marketing manager and business developer for design firms, often describing my role as that of a “stage manager.”
A stage manager has to know the whole story … all of the lines, props and cues. This person usually dresses in black so as not to be seen by the audience. An invisible “helper.”
I enjoy my role and believe I’ve experienced success in my position, which has given me a new story about and connection with Dr. Danforth.
My firm designs laboratories and research spaces, and we have become connected with The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. This renowned organization was founded through Dr. Danforth’s vision to utilize research and science to improve human health and well-being.
I recently was invited to attend a Corporate Cabinet meeting at the Danforth Center. I arrived early and parked my car. As I got out of my car, I observed Dr. Danforth, at the age of 87, shuffling alone along the perimeter of the building he shepherded in honor of his father. I watched and quietly wondered what I would be doing at his age.
Inside, I walked into the meeting room and struck up conversations with a couple of attendees. These people were important – bank vice presidents and community leaders. As I talked with someone in the conference room, Dr. Danforth joined our conversation. I shared with my new friend the wonderful memories I had of Dr. Danforth during my time at Washington University.
After exchanging additional conversation, Dr. Danforth mentioned that he would like some tea and I agreed that I would also. As we walked together towards the breakfast area, I was stopped by someone whom I knew and had not seen for a long while.
I became entrenched in further conversation, but then noticed a hand coming around the corner with a cup of tea for me. Dr. Danforth was waiting on me and delivering my cup of tea.
However I expressed appreciation to him in that moment did not capture the full essence of my gratitude. Almost thirty years later, he exhibited personally to me his important lesson of leadership. At an age and a stature where he should be served, he continues to serve others.
I have heard my father read well-known scripture many times from the book of Matthew: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” I am incredibly blessed to have a great leader in Dr. Danforth teach and demonstrate for me this invaluable lesson, both as a teenager and as a wiser adult. To serve and help others is to lead.
Well done, good and faithful servant.
Michele Matzat Lord
Dr. Danforth was a mentor to me. He knew about my interest in education and arranged for me to intern at the Danforth foundation. That internship put me in the same room and at times the same table with some of the nation’s top school superintendents.
Chan Dan you left your mark on many! Rest in Power Friend!
I have a rather short memory of him, but I always would say he worked for a greater good and a very friendly and affable fellow. Also he did not have to do what he was doing because he could have retired years ago. The last I saw of him was about three years ago outside west campus. I think he was viewing the Clayton skyline.
Uncle Bill saved Student Life 35 years ago.
That’s the first memory that came to mind on Sept. 16 when friends in St. Louis sent the news that Chancellor William H. Danforth, affectionately called Uncle Bill by generations of Wash. U. students, had died at age 94.
In the fall of 1985, the fate of Student Life (SL) was in the hands of Danforth. The newspaper’s business manager had skipped town with the treasury. There was no money to even publish the next issue. That news was gleefully delivered to Erick Norlin and me the day before fall break by the Dean of Student Affairs. Erick and I had been co-editors-in-chief for about six months and had been SL staffers since Freshman Year, but we had no idea about the paper’s finances. We were doubly shocked when the dean told us there was nothing he could do to help. There was no money in his budget for printing a newspaper.
As Erick and I walked back to the SL office, then on the top floor of Karl Umrath Hall, we vented our anger at the paper’s thieving business manager. We also vowed to keep publishing. I believe it was Erick’s idea to contact Danforth. I placed a call to the chancellor’s office and in less than an hour we were telling him about the SL crisis. When we asked what we should do, he said, “Keep publishing.”
Danforth said the University would make a loan to SL with generous terms and recruit an honest business manager. “But we can’t put the paper out, only you and the Student Life staff can do that,” he said. “Promise me you won’t miss an issue.”
Erick and I were in disbelief.
Danforth was rescuing SL, which often was a thorn in his side. The news and opinion pages were filled with criticism about tuition hikes, funding for science over the arts, the need for a more diverse student body and other controversies. I remember asking Danforth why he was helping us. “Student Life serves the Washington University community with its reporting,” he said. “And you and the staff are learning as much in Umrath Hall as you are in the classroom.”
The following Sunday night, as the SL staff was editing stories, writing an editorial and designing pages, I received a telephone call from Danforth asking if he could stop by. Around 9 p.m., he and wife Ibby arrived with Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. They didn’t stay long, but I remember Danforth insisting on shaking hands with every staff member and thanking them for their dedication to the paper.
Student Life, started in 1878, remains the oldest continuously published newspaper in Missouri because of Uncle Bill’s dedication to student journalism and the First Amendment.
Bill and I represented WU advocating for passage of the constitutional amendment protecting stem cell research in 2005-2006 so we spent lots of time together. Of course he came with a reputation as an exceptional person but knowing this modest, generous and gracious guy was fabulous. He taught me so much about what is important.
I entered Washington University in the fall of 1972, and wrote for Student Life throughout my freshman year. My cohort had been too young to participate in the political events of the mid-to-late sixties, but we were determined to make something of the seventies, and we had a lot to chew on. Nixon would be reelected that year, feminism was just beginning, and the Civil Rights movement was still going strong. One of the issues that had arisen on campus was the idea of ‘ethical investing’ – meaning that Washington University should only invest in companies that were committed to ethically sound practices. In particular, there was a movement to divest from companies that were based in South Africa, or in any way supported apartheid. I was granted an interview with Chancellor Danforth to discuss this, and came loaded for bear, ready to push him for a declaration of support for changing the WashU investment portfolio for the better. But when I entered his office and sat down across from him with my notebook, the conversation didn’t go as I had planned. He answered my questions without a hint of condescension, enough for a decent story, but then he wanted to know about me….where I came from, how I came to enroll at WashU, and soon enough I was telling him about my family, my roots in St. Louis, how my dad went to night school at WashU while working at Ralston Purina, and how I planned to become a scientist but still wanted to write. I ended up getting charmed by this warm, caring man, and later came to understand that I had had a quintessential encounter with Chancellor Danforth. He led with University with empathy and humility, and weren’t we all so lucky to have him as an example to follow. In times no less difficult than these, the WashU Class of ’76 had a wise teacher, who imprinted on us that leadership begins with connection, that power can be lightly held, and that conflict can be defused. He will be missed.
As a freshman at WashU in 1987 I vividly remember attending Bedtime Stories with Chan Dan- The milk and cookies were almost as good as the time spent with the Chancellor. Back then I took for granted walking the campus, seeing and talking with the Chancellor- I remember that he was always asking us students questions; What did we like about our classes or what did we think about the dining options…
Now when I am on campus visiting my daughter, class of 2021, I think “AHAA!”. It is only with time and my child studying at WashU that I have come to appreciate and understand his great Legacy. WashU has grown into an even more AMAZING place thanks to Chancellor Danforth. He will be greatly missed. Tonight I will be drinking milk and eating cookies with my bedtime story ( Perhaps some poetry from Howard Nemerov) in honor of Chan Dan- Thank you.
Karen Needler ( Bowman)
I am so sorry to hear about your loss. Please accept my sincere and heartfelt condolences at this most difficult of times and please pass these feelings onto the family.
Dr. Danforth was a fantastic individual who will be greatly missed by everyone who knew
him. I was an international student from Singapore who studied at Washington University in the 80s and stayed in touch with Dr. Danforth over the years and had many opportunities to
meet with him and Ibby during their frequent visits to Asia in the 1990s.
I especially remember Dr. Danforth’s smile, friendliness, loving nature and a true gentlemen. Over the years, I remember very fondly my trips back to St. Louis that will never be complete without a visit with Dr. Danforth. He will always welcome me with open arms, and we would spend time chatting about his trips to Asia as well as his fond memories of the time spent with my parents and family. Another recurring topic is his admiration and respect for Singapore’s founding father, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew.
My last visit with Dr. Danforth was in 2016 at his home where we chatted over Chinese tea that I brought with me. He enjoyed the tea very much. I will always remember Dr. Danforth as an especially giving person of great character and a great mentor.
Jimmy Leong and Leong family
I had the pleasure of assisting in arranging several on-campus events for Chancellor Danforth. I remember researching the Founder’s Day guest list one year in order to give him a brief paragraph about each guest. He amazingly memorized the information so that he could greet each guest personally (all 900 guests). Chancellor Danforth was a genuinely caring man who made everyone feel welcomed. There will never be another Chan Dan…
I had the privilege of supporting Dr. Danforth’s office and home computer systems for 20 years. There were times he would call me from somewhere in Europe or Asia with a computer issue to be solved. He was a joy to work with. From helping him with an upgraded software version or a new laptop, he was always eager to learn something new. I remember sitting at his kitchen table for hours, working with AT&T trying to establish his first home internet connection. Dr. Danforth and Ibby were very patient and gracious to a lowly computer technician from the campus. His character, leadership, and knowledge will be greatly missed. Godspeed ChanDan!
I shall always remember Dr. Danforth’s composure at his wife Ibby’s memorial service in Graham Chapel. After the service he was greeting people outside and I said something about how very sorry I was for his loss. I’ve never forgotten his reply. He said “How lucky was I to have had such a wonderful wife for so many years.” Much later he was gracious enough to come to my husband’s memorial in Holmes Lounge, even though he was in a wheelchair by that time. Afterwards he sent me a letter that I treasure, which said, in part “I have long felt that the greatest people of Washington University were those whose life and character inspired the rest of us.” Dr. Danforth was an example to us all, and I shall dearly miss him.
Chancellor Danforth was the model of a silent voice with profound influence. As I reflect upon my engagements with him, I can say his encouraging words made a difference in my life.
During my 4 years from 1973-1977 I vividly remember Dr. Danforth walking around campus talking to students, making himself a vivid presence. I was a reporter for Student Life during a time of political upheaval on campus and interviewed Dr. Danforth for an article–which was then edited to put one of his quotes out of context. When I went back to Dr. Danforth to apologize for what had happened he was completely gracious. I more recently had the pleasure of sitting next to Dr. Danforth at my class’s 35th anniversary dinner on campus and he was as charming and convivial as ever. He will be missed.
In the summer of 1975 I worked at Camp Miniwanca (American Youth Foundation) in Michigan. One day I had a Wash U booklet sent to high school students. The camp business manager saw it and asked me, “Did you know the Chancellor of Washington University was here last week?” I didn’t know that and I thought to myself, “This camp experience is Heaven on Earth, so if the chancellor was here, Wash U must also be great!” I soon found out that Uncle Bill’s grandfather was one of the founders of the American Youth Foundation, hence our beloved chancellor’s connection to the camp. I am infinitely fortunate that I had the two great Danforth experiences — graduating from Washington University and working at Miniwanca for 5 summers!
I was privileged to support Chancellor Danforth in his use of many online applications for many many years and remember sitting with him in his Brookings office in the late 1980s, walking him through the steps to send an electronic message through PROFS, the administrative e-mail system of the time.
E-mail was not a standard communication application at WUSTL back then. Some departments had not even begun to -consider- using it. Chancellor Danforth however, recognized its potential, saw how he could use this new tool to better communicate with his colleagues and peers around the globe.
Yes, e-mail would eventually have come around to all departments at some point, but Chancellor Danforth’s adoption undoubtedly sped up the process and helped keep the university moving in the right direction. It’s yet another example of the open-minded forward-thinking he brought to help oversee Washington University’s success.
In addition to our words and deeds we all are sometimes remembered by the artifacts associated with us. In Chancellor Danforth’s case it was something as prosaic as a car that he drove to work daily in the mid-1970s while I was a graduate student in engineering.
I was a “morning” person and usually arrived to campus by 7:00 on my old BMW motorcycle to do sponsored research and prepare for classes. My usual parking spot was in the lot in front of Brookings where the McKelvey School is today. I would trudge up the hill to campus through the archway between Crow and Cupples I. At 7:00 AM there are very few cars on campus so the late 1960s pea green Chevrolet caught my eye as I passed the small lot next to North Brookings. It always looked functional, a bit worn and in every aspect unremarkable (except for the pea green paint). Later, I learned that it was the Chancellor’s car and it struck me how appropriate it was to the Bill Danforth I had met years earlier and whose actions and presence I observed on campus: a pea green Chevy sedan at 7:00 AM in an unreserved spot.
I attended from 1978-1982. Chancellor Danforth was always a caring and steady presence everywhere on campus. In a baseball game against IIT at the old Utz Field, I hit a home run well over the centerfield fence. When I got back to the bench, he was standing by the fence and told me “Good hit Brian”. Amazing! It was an honor to attend WashU during his chancellorship.
In 2000, as a young, naive and very new staff member in WashU’s public affairs office, I was writing some news article and needed to get a quote from Chancellor Emeritus Danforth. I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t really know who he was. I emailed him with the request, and he called me shortly thereafter. I asked him a couple questions, got the quote needed, then asked him if I could please call him if I needed anything else, to which he of course said yes. And then I replied: “OK, thank you. What’s your number?” Which is about as stupid as asking for the number to 911. Anyway, those ridiculous words came out of my mouth, and there was a very slight pause on the other end. I have to wonder now, just as I’m sure Chancellor Danforth was wondering then, when was the last time he had been asked by a university staff member for his phone number? (This was before nearly every campus phone had a caller ID on it.) But sure enough, he cordially gave me his number and didn’t make me feel silly at all.
I feel that how he handled that is completely in line with the grace and kindness he was known for.
I arrived as a junior faculty member in 1978 and kept seeing a beat-up 1955 Chevy in the parking lot. I was amazed to learn that it was the mode of transportation of Chancellor Danforth but came to realize it was part of his great humility. I got to know him better when I took a leadership position in DBBS, the interdisciplinary Ph.D. programs that Dr. Danforth was instrumental in establishing in the 70’s that became the national template for biomedical Ph.D. programs. I will always remember his statement about his vision in founding DBBS. “Vision without resources is hallucination.”
I have never met or worked with a more gifted, inspirational, understanding, caring, effective, individual in my 62 years than Bill Danforth. I deeply and personally mourn his loss. But celebrate an incredible life which touched so many and left so many far, far better off because he was here. If one can be judged by helping people, raising sights, building a far better world, he was without equal. His effect on friends, families, colleagues, admirers, the entire Washington University community, St. Louis, and the country has been transformational.
My heart goes out to the entire Danforth and University family. With deepest respect, affection, and admiration to all.
I have fond memories of Chancellor Danforth and my time at WashU (A.B. 1987). His presence was larger than life – a man who cared deeply about the students, faculty, alums and WashU. He was approachable, empathetic and a caring leader who leaves a memorable legacy. My condolences to the entire Danforth family.
In his unassuming, Jimmy-Stewart-like way, “Chan Dan” exuded competence and thus reassured this homesick freshman in the fall of 1987 that everything would be okay. And it was. In his letter to the WashU community announcing his retirement as Chancellor some eight years later, Chan Dan observed (I paraphrase here): “When I became Chancellor the students looked young to me. Now, the parents of the students look young. No one should stay on so long that the grandparents look young.” Chan Dan eased life’s inevitable “goodbyes” with his deft touch.
Isn’t it funny I never knew he was a doctor? To me he was the Chancellor who read us bedtime stories. He was the man who made himself available to us as a leader. He was gracious and I always thought he cared about us. I am truly grateful for the University he helped create and the time I spent there. He had so much to do with the wonderful education I received. Rest In Peace. And thank you.
Wendy Plummer (Rosenblum)
In 1976 Chancellor Danforth generously stepped in to help with planning a student/alumni-sponsored dance, the Red Rose Cotillion. As we were meeting in his office over the lunch hour, he noticed that one of his shoelaces had broken. While still listening to our grand plans, he bent over and nimbly re-attached the broken shoelace. When we finished our meeting we walked outside and I watched as he got into an older, green sedan. Unassuming, understated, brilliant, and kind–he taught us so many lessons. God bless.
Karen Brown Kemper
Dr. Danforth was a wonderful model of humility and leadership to our family as my father, Arlo H. Hasselbring, worked for him for 30 years. Dad was the financial controller that quietly worked in the background to help turn the university around financially. Dad worked very hard to help keep the reigns on spending, but also grow the academic schools and divisions for Dr. Danforth’s vision of strategic academic growth. He respected Dr. D’s leadership and decisions. Dad spent a lot of time at HHS in DC negotiating funds for the medical school research to support Dr. Danforth’s vision of expanding the medical school campus. I learned financial management and negotiation skills from dad’s experience of working for Dr. Danforth. Dr. Danforth was always very gracious and kind to my father as he struggled with health issues. Most of all my siblings and I learned humility, the value of giving and living frugally from Bill Danforth’s lifestyle. Dad always said “if Dr. Danforth can drive an old Chevy with the windows rolled down and no air conditioning in the St. Louis summer”, then you can go without as well. My father had me read ‘I Dare You’, teaching me to use my gifts by taking risks in leadership. I remember when Dr. Danforth said hello to me at the age of 12 at a dinner at the Whittemore House. I was wearing a hat I bought in Colorado and he said, ‘I see you are very proud of that hat’, which I remember as a message to stay humble. Humble leadership, how to live simply and how to give back, is what am thankful I learned from Dr. Danforth.
Christine Hasselbring Jenkins
I met Dr. Danforth for the first time at the WUSTL sesquicentennial. When he made a comment about his advanced age, I asked, “And how old ARE you, sir?” He answered, “Well, I’m either 78 or 87, I can’t remember which.” Ibby laughed, so I knew it was a joke. I continued, “To what do you attribute your long, healthy life?” His reply was, “I eat breakfast cereal every morning.” I naively asked, “What kind?” The words were hardly out of my mouth when I realized my faux pas!
I was a student at WU from 1978-82, when you still had to explain WU to people on the East Coast. Bill Danforth changed that. He was so worthy of respect and yet he loved just hanging out with us. I was VP of Student Union one year and we pushed the administration on some issues that would have led lesser University leaders to not like us very much. But Bill never did that. Years later, at a reunion, he remembered our tussles and told me that he may not have agreed with everything I was doing, but he knew that we were trying to make the school better and learning valuable skills and lessons ourselves at the same time. He was a great man and I will never forget him.
Chan Dan was always around and always felt approachable and available. With his enigmatic smile, and gentle giant presence he had the ability to engage students on their terms. He was the rare leader that took the time to listen and to observe. I learned from his leadership and integrate many of these same attributes into my own life- personally and professionally-every day. Thank you Chan Dan for setting an excellent example for me and countless others. You are missed.
WashU invited me and several other prospective grad students to a campus visit in 1991. Chancellor Danforth hosted a dinner for us and he know ALL of our names and current universities. This was just one very impressive sign that I was in the right place. So glad I accepted the offer. Rest in peace, Chancellor Danforth.
Bill Danforth was a true gentleman and leader. His passing is sad for me and I miss him. I miss his humility, his scholarly approach, his leadership, all of which seem to be lacking in our society today. I remember Chancellor Danforth telling bedtime stories during orientation in 1985. I can still tell you about the stories he read because they made such an impression on me. I would always introduce myself to him at reunion and trustee events and tell him what an impact he had on me. I believe he knew how so many alums felt about him, and this gave him happiness and comfort in his later years.
I came to Washington University in 1995, the year that Chan Dan retired. Nonetheless, he seemed to permeate the campus. Older students wistfully reflected on his bedtime stories in the swamp and his benevolent omnipresence. I would occasionally see him around campus as he still had board duties. He delivered the class of 1999 commencement address, which was heartfelt and has grown in meaning to me as I have grown older. He reflected on the importance of family and friends and on working to help others.
William Danforth and WashU changed my life! He was emblematic of the greatness at WashU! He will be missed but never forgotten.
Dr. Danforth added much to the Washington U. (never “WashU”) community and much to my own life. The most valuable lesson he taught me was the fundamental root of human nature and of all injustice: “Your toothache hurts more than the other guy’s.”
He was the best! I loved him as soon as I heard Uncle Bill telling bedtime stories in the swamp during orientation. He never disappointed in any way. A true gentleman, scholar, leader and educator whose impact will be felt for many generations. He was humble, gentle and made every student, even a wide-eyed freshman, feel comfortable in his presence. What a treasure he was!
Tammy Humm Donelson
I am truly sad to learn of Bill’s passing, but extremely happy to have known him even the little I did. Calling him by his first name here already gives away my fondest memory of him: his absolute down-to-earthness and unusual ability to connect with everyone in the community, regardless of their rank or supposed “stature.” The day I met him in 1982 at the annual new faculty party, I recall vividly his eyes twinkling with satisfaction to learn of our common undergraduate alma mater. Yet he never said a single word about it, ever, as if it was no more noteworthy — in purely human terms — than if we had shared an interest in Einstein or football or cherry pie. And of course it wasn’t! I realized then that he was a man of exemplary kindness, authentic empathy, honest modesty, and profound wisdom. For a man like him to never forgot my name, nor that of countless other people on campus, meant more to me than any particular professional benefit he might have done for me. He also genuinely cared about what people were doing, both in their jobs and everyday lives. In my entire academic life I cannot think of anyone of his stature I’ve been fortunate enough to encounter about whom I can say such things. May he therefore rest in well-deserved peace, and may his family continue to thrive in spite of their great loss today.
I was an undergraduate at Washington U. 1974-78. I remember Dr. Danforth walking about on the campus, smiling and greeting the students. He was a true gentleman. I don’t think I ever engaged in conversation with him—I would have been too shy—but I do remember him vividly walking on the grounds and I’m pretty sure I said hello to him. I remember how kindly he looked and what a nice smile he had. I am so very sorry to hear of his passing. He is part of my memories of the wonderful four years I spent at this great university and will surely be missed. My sincere condolences to his family.
Wendy Gavis – Lainjo
I cherish the memory of having Dr. Bill Danforth as an attending physician when I was in medical school (1963-67). I remember meeting him at medical school reunions and at our son’s graduation and MBA from business school.
Chancellor Danforth was truly one of the greatest human beings I have ever met. I was so privileged to know him and lucky enough to cross paths with him in the hallway many times over the past ten years. He always greeting me by name, often with a hug, and always with a genuine interest in me and my family. Of course, this was not unique to me, it’s who he was. Thank you, Dr. Danforth, for your inspiration, your leadership, your kindness and your enormous positive impact on Washington University, the entire St. Louis community and the world. RIP.
I was at Washington University from 1975 to 1979. Chancellor Danforth was a pillar of the WashU community. He was a great leader who deeply loved the students. I have the fondest memories of my time there.
Two of many memories of Chancellor Danforth.
I was a student member of the Board of Trustees for a year, and so had several opportunities to talk to Dr. Danforth about student concerns and needs. I always had the feeling I was talking to an ally, not a distant administrator. He was, as others have said, truly present.
He was also present at a performance of a comedy troupe I started with Jim McLindon called the Bear Ass (meant to be an abbreviation for Association). Dr. and Mrs. Danforth attended a show we did at Wohl Center, and when we saw them out in the audience we realized that 40 percent of the show was more or less profane and the rest satirized the WashU administration. But the two of them laughed through the whole show and still talked to us afterwards. Always gracious, unfailingly kind.
I transferred into WashU in 1988, and was promised that, although I could not get into housing that year, I would be able to do so the following year. in the spring of my first year I kept running into roadblocks from the housing office, but after one call to the Chancellor’s office, it was immediately resolved. I can’t thank him enough, and I never forgot his help, nor did he. More than once when I saw him on campus he would ask (unbidden mind you), “is everything ok with your housing?” That he would go so far for one of thousands of students with no legacy to the campus left its mark, and I will never forget him.
While I have known him for nearly 50 years, my very first memory of Bill Danforth revealed much of his character. In the fall of 1971, several months after he had begun his tenure as chancellor, I was invited to an Interfraternity Council retreat to address the perpetual problems that result when college-age males live together. Fraternities were held in low esteem generally then and were a major pain to the university. So, it was a great surprise when Bill Danforth showed up our meeting to introduce himself, ask questions and engage with us. His unassuming manner and pragmatic approach made a huge impression on the 19-year-old me. Over the intervening years I’ve had many opportunities to interact with him whether at alumni meetings or running into him at O’Hare Airport between flights. He was always the same person. He has been my model of servant leadership for nearly 50 years and he will dearly missed.
I remember meeting with Dr. Danforth and his wife at a luncheon at their home for incoming freshmen undergraduate scholars (Langsdorf, Mylonas and Lien). He made it a point to meet each of us and remembered who we were throughout our careers at WUSTL. His warmth and depth along with Ibby’s charm were part of building my lifelong warm relationship with WU.
Ira Spector, PhD
I met him and spoke with him several times.
He was intelligent, friendly and nice.
I’m glad to have known him.
During the Fall of 1984, while I was working on Campus as a freshman enforcing parking rule (part of my work-study program for tuition aid), I gave a parking ticket to a car parked in front of the steps leading up to the Quad. Found out the next day that I had ticketed Chancellor Danforth’s car. Remember, laughing out loud and wondering if I was still eligible to graduate. LOL. Chancellor Danforth later shared with me that he also laughed about it. He was such a gentle, kind and extremely giving soul and I remember him fondly.
Chancellor Danforth was such a strong supporter of athletics and our volleyball team. He came to matches, took time to speak with us, and had our team over for dinner after we won our National Championships. He had such a powerful presence, yet it was comforting to be around him. I remember him fondly and have so much respect for his work & dedication to both Wash U and the community. I’m honored to have known him.
I am a 1979 Psychology PhD alum. I became reacquainted with Bill when I served on the Undergraduate National Council (Board Subcommittee). I believe that because I was an academic with a medical school background, the staff would always sit me next to Bill at the meetings. Those many encounters – a time when we could really connect – are truly treasured memories for me. As you might imagine, I got some sage advice also.
During my service on the Board, I became a college president and Bill sent me an autographed copy of his Thanksgiving Letters. I read it carefully. In fact, I would say I studied it. I adopted the practice and sent holiday letters to the college community rather than the more common holiday cards. I have moved many times since then and have retired. I “purged” many books while downsizing. But I still have Bill’s book and treasure it. I will pull it out today and reread it in memory of a wise man and a great leader.
Chancellor Danforth, aka Chan Dan was very approachable and personable. I remember him at football games and at official events and always friendly to all. My favorite memories are of him reading bedtime stories in the Swamp of the South 40. Chancellor Danforth always wanted everyone to feel at home at WashU. Sir, you were cherished and now you will be missed.
To say that Chancellor Danforth was accessible is an understatement. On several occasions, he not only greeted me as a student, but initiated a conversation. He was genuinely interested in talking to students. What always struck me was how he radiated a simple joyfulness.
A true visionary and intellectual with an amazing common touch.
It’s been a long time. The dates are fuzzy, the picture is clear as yesterday in my mind, but in black and white.
I remember a spring when I walked to campus to take pictures of the bloom and arrived as a line of St. Louis County police led by Col DeGrazia marched students across the field in front of the Woman’s Center, pushing them toward the Quad. I took pictures of the police in that line instead. Plain clothes police took pictures of me. They corned me, tried to arrest me and confiscate my camera. With the help of friends and a white Siberian Husky named “Love” I evaded them and disappeared into the tunnels.
I came up to the light of day at the steps of the old bookstore just in time to see a newly appointed Dr. Danforth run across the other side of the Quad and face down, scream at, and force the removal of Col DeGrazia’s line police from the campus. One thing of that confrontation I remember is that our soon to be inaugurated Chancellor told Col. DeGrazia that he was not invited and had no jurisdiction on his campus.
Quite an introduction … Back on the Quad, as I ruined the film in the camera by taking many more than the 32 pictures my film canister allowed, I realized that with new leadership, times had really changed for WU.
I do not really remember any further interactions until we met (again) when, 19 odd years ago, our retired Chancellor welcomed student leaders from the 60s back to campus. He welcomed those with whom the school under Eliot had injunctions against. Quite a man!
I was proud that Dr. Danforth was my Chancellor. His actions make me proud of Washington University and my two degrees . . .
I was classmate of Bill’s at Harvard Medical School class of 1951. Bill lived down the hall from me all four years. He was a throughly nice man, a true gentleman. We bonded because we both grew up in Missouri. I grew up on a small farm near Kansas City and every farmer in America knew of the Danforth family – they supplied the feed to cattle, sheep etc. During the depression folks would reuse the Danforth feeds bags and make them into clothes. I have kept in touch with Bill periodically over the last seventy plus years. My granddaughter Adina Ornstein is now a senior at Wash U (she loves it!) and a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of speaking with Bill one last time – remarking that lot has happened since Bill and I first met as eager medical students almost seventy five (!) year ago.
(Dictated to son Joe – when I asked my Dad what he and Bill spoke about last month he said “we’re both old.”)
I am 70 yrs old now, but I remember when Dr. Danforth succeeded Chancellor Eliot. I was at Washington University for the Black Student sit-ins and the Black Manifesto and for establishing the first Black Studies Department on campus. My daughter followed me and received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at WashU. Dr. Danforth proved to be a gentleman of reason.
I’ll always remember his smile and soft voice.
Carol Page (Givhans, Shaw)
I have so many memories of seeing him and Libby on campus and their kindness. I am 65 now and feel like I lost a family member. His elevation of WashU is incomparable. I believe the proper tribute is to rename the university and give it the proper and its unique identity: Danforth University. Recognizing its past and future and will inspire a proper capital campaign I am sure.
I attended Washington University as an undergrad from 1981-1985. During that time, Chancellor “Uncle Bill” Danforth was not only an inspirational leader for the school, he was a very accessible presence around campus, hosting “fireside” chats during orientation, strolling the paths and stopping to chat with students, and even sitting down to dine with students in the main cafeteria on the South Forty (at that time called Wohl Center). In the years following my graduation, I noticed that WashU continued to grow in both reputation and respect, so that the value of my degree also continued to go up and up, even to this day. I attribute this to Danforth’s laser-focused mission to transform Washington University in St. Louis into a world class institution–followed by Chancellor Wrighton, who built on his foundation, and now Chancellor Martin. I am also the proud parent of a Washington University senior, who heard many stories and fond memories of WashU while growing up. So I have a first hand view into how much the school has (and has not) changed in the 35 years since I was a student there. An incredible institution but still a family. Rest In Peace, Chancellor Danforth. You have left a remarkable legacy. Prayers of comfort also for the Danforth family.
Jennifer (Thiele) Busch
That picture of Bill Danforth seated with a group of undergrads is no accident. Danforth and his wife were fervent in their interest in and generosity to students. A sophomore boasted: “you invite the Chancellor over to your dorm room for soup in your pop-corn popper and he will come!” (This was before microwave ovens). Our Wohl Hall floor did invite the Danforths over for dinner (a sandwich platter catered in) and then came and appeared to have a great time chatting and hanging out. We loved the thought that we had a supported in Brookings Hall.
There was a vicious flu sweeping through the campus and the nation in the winter of 1976 or 1977. Dr. Danforth went to the dormitories, room by room and without judgement of the activities of the students, to check in on students and offer medical help if necessary. Many of you may not realize that Chancellor Danforth was a physician in addition to all of his other accomplishments. He took the Hippocratic Oath seriously, and showed great concern and compassion to the students at Wash U.
“Chan Dan” One of the best leaders and “good people” I have ever encountered. He will be sorely missed. I am immediately saddened.
I cherish my time at Wash U from 1980-1984. “Uncle Bill” as we called him was always accessible, reading bedtime stories, just always such an approachable figure to us students at any time. I’m so sad to hear of his passing but feel so lucky to have been one of his “kids” and am so thankful for my wonderful memories of Wash U and am hopeful one day my son will also get to experience Washington University in all of its glory. Rest easy Uncle Bill
I recall sitting on the athletic field behind the now demolished Shepley Hall Dorm in August 1981 while Uncle Bill, dressed in pajamas, read bedtime stories to thousands of students on a warm night.
When our medical school class (of 1978) convened in St, Louis in August of 1974, we had a meet and greet event on the Tom Sawyer riverboat during one of the introductory evenings. The chancellor was on the cruise with us. I didn’t know a soul in St. Louis, and knew no one in the class. And of course, I didn’t know what the chancellor looked like, or who he was. He approached me on the boat, introduced himself as Bill, and engaged me in 15 minutes of conversation about my path to St. Louis. When we were wrapping things up, I asked him what he did at the medical school. He said “Nothing really, I’m just the chancellor”. He was a source of guidance and good advice for my entire career here, and sent me thoughtful notes dozens of times, often recounting our meeting on the Tom Sawyer. What an extraordinary gift he was to this institution, and what a great friend to science.
Bill Danforth was Chancellor during my whole stay at Wash U Medical School as faculty and HHMI investigator. I met him on several occasions. Always warm and engaging, he was a presence. Three sons (2 undergrads, 1 MD) and one daughter-in-law subsequently have/will have WashU degrees. Thank you, Bill. RIP.
I was a greener than green general surgery resident in the 90’s on my very first rotation as an MD. I was called to work up a patient for surgery the next day. This patient happened to be a major benefactor of Washington University and his friend, Dr. Danforth (still chancellor at the time), was visiting him that evening. Being new to St. Louis, I had no idea who either of them were. I took the patient’s history, politely asked Dr. Danforth to leave while I did a physical, and proceeded as usual. Both of them were exceedingly gracious to me, asking about where I came from and offering restaurant suggestions, even telling me to tell the chef that they sent me. Later, when I was told who that was, I was anxiety ridden that I had not shown proper deference. But there was no need. It was my only direct interaction with Dr. Danforth, but from it I could tell two important things about the character of the man. Not only was he a kind and humble person to show grace to an oblivious outsider, but also that he loved the people of Washington University, from students to interns to staff. What a great legacy.
Theodore Vander Velde
When I started as an undergrad at WU in 1990, Chancellor Danforth came to the dinner held for students and parents for my scholarship program, the John B. Ervin scholars, a program he advocated for and created to honor his tremendous friend and first African-American Dean at WU, which brought me to Washington University. My dad, mom and I were seated at the same table as the chancellor. Now everyone who knows my dad knows how he loves to talk and he talked the Chancellor’s ear off and we had a wonderful time. Flash forward 4 years to the dinner held graduation week for the program. My dad was very excited to see Chan Dan again but says I know he won’t remember me; he’s a busy man and it had been 4 years. We walk in, Chancellor Danforth walks up, says hello Mr. Hayes (no name tags) and they pick up their spirited conversation where they left off. My family cherishes this memory to this day, 26 years later. He was obviously accomplished, brilliant, but none of that holds a candle to his genuine human warmth and caring for everyone, including a slightly wacky black family from Mississippi. He inspired me to a lifelong love of WU as well, and after completing undergrad, medical school and fellowship here, I have been a faculty member at the School of Medicine for 15 years. He will be greatly missed.
What I remember most about ‘Chan Dan’ was his accessibility and welcoming smile. Despite his amazing custodianship of Washington University and associated responsibilities, he could often be found eating his lunch from a brown paper bag on a bench in the Quad. He welcomed students to sit with him and talk. He managed to replace the ivy tower with an open door. In so many ways, we felt that Chan Dan was ‘one of us’. We will deeply miss him
When I arrived on campus in 1982, one of the highlights of the orientation week was Uncle Bill’s bedtime stories for freshman. He and Ibby also held a reception for parents at their home. My parents and I had only met them that one time but each and every time I encountered them on campus (or when my parents came to visit), he never failed to greet and address us by name. My experience at Wash U was defined by that first week and I never doubted for a moment that I had made the right choice to be on a campus led by such a remarkable man.
I’ve had the good fortune of my office being located near Dr. Danforth’s at West Campus. Seeing him and exchanging hellos always made me feel like I was touching WashU history. Such a kind, generous, accomplished man who set an example for us all.
I remember him visiting the ”Stix International House” to meet the new international students in August or September 1989 and his interest in hearing from us our stories and concerns. May he rest in peace.
Fausto Di Biase