Robert L. Virgil, MBA ’60, DBA ’67
Dean Emeritus, John M. Olin School of Business
It is difficult for me to think in other than personal terms about Bill Danforth. Gerry aside, he is the most important person in my life. So, my tribute will be personal.
I first saw and met Bill in the late Sixties when I was on the Faculty Senate Council. This was the Vietnam Era, a time of protest, unrest and disruption on the campus. The Council was meeting daily with Chancellor Tom Eliot to be kept abreast of developments. At one particular meeting, Tom entered the room and with him was a tall, gaunt, Lincolnesque person. This was Bill, then Executive Vice-Chancellor for Medical Affairs. Thereafter, Bill always was there, and it is clear in retrospect that Tom had often sought Bill’s assistance. If you asked me today for one word, only one, to describe Bill, I would say: Lincolnesque.
He had that one quality which I have come to believe distinguishes the truly great leader – the person who puts an institution on a path to excellence and contribution that otherwise could not have been imagined, let alone achieved. Bill had that rare ability to get above the noise of today, to look out over the horizon to the long term, and to chart the course toward the goal. His goal was for St. Louis. As he became Chancellor, he believed that St. Louis could have one of the world’s great research universities, and that if this goal could be reached, the future of the city he loved would be strengthened immeasurably. He held to that goal. The setbacks, the disappointments, the daily messes never derailed him. He was patient, dogged, determined, persistent, understanding. Twenty-five years later, the goal he had set in his mind and that he inspired across his team was reality.
He saw something in me that I did not see. He gave me opportunity. He stuck with me when I came up short. He asked me to be the acting dean, then the dean. He was there every single step of the way. He did anything I asked, he came to every event where I wanted his presence and words. Every major thing I did as dean, he was there behind, nay, often in front of me.
One day, he invited me to lunch at the old Washington University Club on Broadway. After lunch, he took me across the street to meet Mr. John M. Simon. Early in my deanship, Bill told me that my major task was to improve the faculty. We set our sights on accounting professor Nick Dopuch at the University of Chicago. Things came to the point of decision. Nick visited the campus. He asked for a meeting with Bill. I do not know what transpired between them, but Nick accepted. Nick always said that discussion with Bill made the difference. In the late 80s the school became the John M. Olin School. This too was Bill. I think this idea was in his mind for a long time. He waited until he felt the time was right and that the school now had proven its merits. I could go on and on with such tales.
For those of us who were privileged to work over the years with Bill, we could not possibly have had a better chief. He set the course. He listened, and he considered alternative views. He weighed things carefully. He was prepared. He came having thought about things and with ideas. He gave us leash. He was more than fair. He had a way of criticizing that made you feel he was patting you on the back, and that sent you out of his office wanting to do better. But have no doubt. He was no pushover. Nothing was going to deter him from that goal. He was decisive. He was resolute, especially when the values and the future direction of Washington University were on the table.
Bill liked mingling with everyone in the Washington University family. But he especially liked being with the young people, the students. They gave him energy. They drove him even harder toward reaching the goal. He had no doubt that the young people would make the world better for humankind. For this reason he was optimistic about the future. If there is one thing that should strike us from reading and listening to Bill, it is his faith in the young people and his optimism about the future.
On my birthday late in August, I called Bill. His hearing was not the best and one could not be sure of getting through. I asked, “Bill, if you were the Chancellor during this pandemic, what would you be thinking of?” There was a very long pause of silence. Then, in a very soft voice, Bill said, “Bob, I would be thinking of the young people . . . “
I loved the man. I trace and owe just about everything good that has come my way to him. I will never see another like him. I will miss him.
Remove your cap,
Bow your head,
A Giant no longer is among us.
Edward S. Macias
Barbara and David Thomas Distinguished Professor Emeritus in Arts & Sciences
I first met Bill Danforth in 1971 when he became Chancellor of Washington University and I was a new assistant professor of chemistry. Although I didn’t get to know him well for another decade, from the beginning he was approachable and listened to what I had to say and for that matter he listened to all the faculty carefully. It was easy from the very start to like Bill and to respect him.
As I grew up in the University, Bill believed in me and encouraged me to become more involved in the University administration. I wrote a report about the WU summer school after I had been the director of the summer school for one year. I did this while I continued my duties as a tenured professor. Bill read that report at the request of Ralph Morrow, then dean of Arts & Sciences. Bill met with me and asked me about the data and conclusions in the report. From that time on, Bill would discuss University issues with me.
This led to my becoming Provost and Chief Academic Officer of the University in 1988 and my working closely with Bill on all matter related to the University for many years to come. During our time together as Chancellor and Provost, Bill asked me to do things that not only were important for Washington U but also helped me to learn and grow in my job as Provost. An example is when he said in my first year as Provost that it would be good if I got a group of top faculty together to consider future plans for the University. This led to my forming the Committee to Prepare for the 21st Century and changed my view of the University for many years to come. This effort permanently changed my professional life and would not have happened were it not for Bill’s urging.
He set a positive example for me and for many others in so many ways. He and his wife, Ibby, were always at University events — seemingly all events. Both of them were very welcoming to my wife, Tedi, and me. In fact, Tedi and Ibby got along very well, and Tedi started the Ibby Danforth Butterfly Garden over 20 years ago. That campus garden on Forsyth continues to this day and remains a beautiful spot on campus.
In later years, many people who he admired on the board, administration and faculty died. Bill was often asked to talk at their funerals and I know these losses were very hard on him. Still, he remained optimistic, empathetic and positive about people and life to the end of his life. Losing Bill is a big loss to me, but I will always have positive memories of his life at Washington University.
Harriet K. Switzer
Secretary to the Board of Trustees, 1980-2007
In 1980, Bill Danforth offered me the opportunity to work with him as Secretary to the Board of Trustees. I was thrilled and in awe of him. I had the privilege of being for 15 years at the side of an amazing, nationally recognized higher education leader, a tall, ruggedly handsome man who drove a modest green pea Chevrolet. He didn’t like air conditioning in his office, spoke in direct and calm tones and seemed when quiet to be constantly thinking — his brain always at work to envision a future plan or solving a current problem. It was not easy to always know what he was thinking. His thoughts were not limited to the University — they embraced the greater St. Louis community and beyond. Little did we realize that his vision embraced developing a world-renowned plant science center here in St. Louis. He had a far-reaching future vision.
Bill’s wide-ranging ties with the St. Louis civic leadership and with national and international executives, educators and scientists enabled him to actually create a high quality Board of Trustees. I had the challenge of living up to his standards of excellence and those of the Trustees: it kept me on my toes! Bill lived by the principles set by his grandfather, embodied in Ralston Purina’s four-square logo: ethical, physical, spiritual and mental wellness. Although Bill is recognized for providing leadership to all facets of the University, one of his greatest contributions was his determination to improve the quality of student life on campus — he cared deeply about the students. And Ibby was very much a part of his endeavor. Bill was, at heart, a caring physician.
And he cared about the Board Secretary, maneuvering for me an introduction to Brown School’s Associate Dean David L. Cronin, now my husband!! Even before I arrived at the University, I experienced the best of Bill. He was chancellor of Washington University and I was head of Maryville College. He invited me to ride to Springfield in a private plane with him and Leigh Gerdine, president of Webster College, to attend the Missouri Colleges Fund conference. En route, I became air sick. We went to the meetings and afterwards took a bus to the airport to return to St. Louis. Unexpectedly, the bus stopped outside a drug store; Bill got out and came back to the bus handing me some Dramamine!!! He was a truly caring physician and a friend.
We will all dearly miss him and we are all better for knowing him.
Martin H. Israel
Professor of Physics
Former Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences
I was Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences for seven years during Bill’s time as chancellor. He was always a calm and quiet, but very clear, advisor and guide during that time. Yes, he was my “boss”, and he let me know if he thought I was on the wrong track for something, but he always did it in the form of helpful advice. I learned a lot from him about leadership in challenging times. I cherish my time working with him.
David H. Perlmutter, MD
Executive Vice Chancellor for Medical Affairs
George and Carol Bauer Dean, School of Medicine
Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor
Most people know Bill Danforth as one of the longest-serving university chancellors in the country, and as a dedicated civic leader and philanthropist. Among his many legacies to St. Louis are one of the world’s best medical schools, a top ranked national research university, the Plant Science Center and a revitalized central West End. But for me, Bill Danforth was first and foremost a physician and a scientist. These early choices — to go to medical school, to start his professional life as a physician in the Navy during the Korean War, to return to St Louis to join the Washington University cardiology faculty — were the first in a series of decisions that had as their common denominator the desire to help people, to be of service to his fellow man and to his nation, and to leave our university, our city, and the world better than he found them.
As he served first as executive vice chancellor of medical affairs for years before taking on the chancellor position, Bill had a deep understanding of the unique and complementary strengths of the two campuses. In both roles he worked to bridge the geographic and cultural divides that inevitably arise between medical schools and the rest of the university. He took many intentional steps to strengthen the virtuous cycle that elevated the university by connecting its individual schools and units.
As Chancellor, he increased funding for basic and medical research, laying the foundation for so many of the School of Medicine’s incredible achievements. I feel his impact every day in the depth of talent and intellectual activities that has distinguished our school and our university. It could only have happened from decades of Bill recognizing, nurturing and empowering the right people and as a result of his firm devotion to the importance of quality in thinking. On more than one occasion I heard him espouse the importance of “academic decision-making” and somehow, I knew that meant that consideration of what was ideal for our core missions — patient care, education and research — had to be a part of every decision.
I learned of Bill from stories that were passed on by giants of our medical school that worked with him — Bill Peck, Phil Needleman, Roy Vagelos, just to name a few — but was also so fortunate to have had some time with him over these last several years, moments that I will always treasure. One night we had several minutes alone before a big dinner event. I was recounting some of the things that I had learned about leadership from my mentors and we landed on the topic of “big” thinking. He told me that when he was a boy, his grandfather asked him to get the dictionary and find the page with the word “impossible.” And then he was told to tear that page out and throw it away.
And yet, every time I met with Bill and would ask for his advice about leadership, he would say the same thing: “I always worried.” This was his way of telling me not to get complacent or intoxicated with success. I like to think that this advice and the anecdote about his grandfather and eliminating “impossible” from his vocabulary are of a piece. This was the essence of his leadership style: aiming high but with a thoughtful humility and a sense of deep responsibility for the university and its community. He understood that in an academic setting, and in a city, change for the better takes time, patience, and perseverance to build a community and a culture with a shared sense of direction and aspirations. It takes worrying and attention to every seemingly small, incremental change, and an understanding that only the commitment of the entire community can bring success.
In a word, his was leadership based on commitment. A commitment that began in the halls of the medical campus when he decided to pursue a profession that is all about helping one’s fellow human beings, and one that took as its specific, fortunate object our university and its place in our region. He understood that commitment means believing that there is no limit to what you can accomplish and that, at the same time, accomplishment is always incremental and only possible by bringing together many individuals to shared aspirations. He put in the time and the commitment, and we are all the better for it. Bill Danforth was tall in stature and presence but gigantic in impact. It is hard to fathom how one person could have fostered so much good in the people around him. His style of leadership and the mark he made on this university lives on in all of us.
Gerald Early, PhD
Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters
Chair, African and African-American Studies
To say that Bill Danforth was a great man nearly goes without saying and seems a platitude without much meaning. What does it mean to be great, after all? In taking Bill’s measure, I think about Freedom and Fate, the poles around which all human lives orbit. Most of us keep them in a poor balance, misusing, abusing and wasting our freedom, cursing and railing against our fate. Bill kept such an equipoise of these Lords of our Life, an easy meshing of the exuberance of freedom and the acceptance of Fate. Not everyone knows the discipline of how to live but I think Bill did. I admired that.
To read more of Gerald Early’s reflections, including two memorable interactions with Bill Danforth, visit this Perspectives piece in The Source.
Julie Ann Kohn, BSBA ’78
International Advisory Council member and International Regional Cabinet – Hong Kong
My heart breaks for the loss of Dr. William H. Danforth, the most wonderful and remarkable person I have ever known. He devoted his life to helping others as a medical doctor, scientist, distinguished Washington University Chancellor, and civic leader. In addition, he was an incredibly caring husband, father, and friend, as well as a mentor and advisor to countless people worldwide. His lifelong goals were to improve human conditions, educate the next generation and support important research to make our world a better place. I am deeply honored to have had the privilege to work for and learn from Dr. Danforth, travel the world with him and his wife, and have his continued close friendship throughout. I was first introduced to Asia with Dr. Danforth in 1989, and Mainland China in 1991, which began my lifelong love affair with the region. I was fortunate to be able to continue to see Dr. Danforth several times a year during my visits back to St. Louis where he always made time to get together and eagerly listened to my stories of life abroad. Dr. Danforth was as close as there is to a living saint. He cared deeply for others, and touched so many hearts and minds. The world was a better place because of him. Rest in peace, dear Dr. Danforth, you will be dearly missed!
William H. Webster, JD ’49
Chair, Washington DC Regional Cabinet
I have been privileged in my long life to have met some extraordinary men and women over the years. One I have most admired was Bill Danforth, a giant of a man in so many ways.
Much has been written and said over the past days about Bill’s extraordinary life and many legacies; how he packed so many accomplishments in to his 94 years I will never know.
What I admire most is that Bill Danforth was a man of integrity who lived a life of service — service to country in two wars, service to community, service to education and service to the world in so many ways; most notably Bill changed the world through his contributions to science and generous philanthropy to myriad important causes and ideas.
Alongside him through much of his busy life was the love of his life, his wife, Ibby, an extraordinary partner and First Lady of Washington University. Together their true interest in and affection for WashU students, professors and staff were legend. There is surely greater joy in Heaven with them both there reunited.
In today’s world of bombastic statements, inflated egos, finger pointing, and dissention in our politics and daily lives, I so appreciate the kind, soft-spoken, gentle–man Bill Danforth was. I knew Bill for over 80 years and not once can I recall him doing a self-centered, selfish thing. In today’s world of ‘me first,’ Bill Danforth by example led by ‘WE’ together.
His signature soft manner in accomplishing large ideas was impressive. I know he would want all of us to focus not on him, but on what we can accomplish together to create a better world.
To create one of the world’s foremost institutions of learning could not become a reality without support of alumni, parents, business leaders and dreamers, like him. So, let me conclude by expressing gratitude that I and Washington University, had the incredible good fortune to have known Dr. William Danforth.
May our collective challenge be to continue the work of Bill Danforth with the same care and love for the extraordinary University community he helped build; may we continue to dream of the boundless good that our University and our personal service in the world can affect.
Sharon Stahl, PhD
Inaugural Director, Danforth Scholars Program
Former Senior Associate Dean of the College
Vice Chancellor for Students, Emerita
We came to St. Louis in January of 1971 when my husband, Philip Stahl, joined the faculty of the School of Medicine. Tom Eliot was the chancellor of Washington University and about to retire. Fortune smiled on us because we were part of the Washington University community during the entire tenure of Bill Danforth’s chancellorship and had the pleasure of watching Bill, through his leadership, character, and collegiality, develop and transform Washington University into an extraordinary place to live and learn. The education of young people who would become stewards of the future were at the core of Bill’s life’s work. Through his humble, thoughtful, kind and generous persona, he provided every Washington University student with an exemplar and inspirational role model. He was mentor, advocate and leader in every way as every day he walked the then Hilltop Campus.
When Bill and Ibby “retired,” the Danforth Scholars Program was established in their honor and, again, fortune smiled on me, and I became the inaugural director of the program. About five years into the program, we began taking the Danforth Scholars to Camp Miniwanca in Michigan because of its connection to the Danforth family; Bill’s grandfather was one of the four founders. Bill would join us at camp where he shared his gentle wisdom and his perspective on making the world a little bit kinder. He was always giving, but from his perspective, it was others who provided him the opportunity, in the words of Camp Miniwanca’s motto, “to be his own self, at his very best, all the time.” He, of course, in his own humble way, would qualify that with “strive to be.” All of us will miss his presence, but we will continue to be inspired by his commitment to creating the space where each of us can make a difference every day in the lives of others. I know that every Danforth Scholar, and hopefully each of us who had the privilege of being part of one of his many communities, will build on his legacy as with every act we strive to be our own selves, at our very best, all the time.
Andrew Bursky, AB ’78, BS ’78, MS ’78
We are fortunate if we have the privilege to meet a giant just once in our lives, particularly so if that connection occurs during our most formative years. I had the privilege and good fortune of first meeting Bill Danforth as I matriculated at Washington University, in the late summer of 1974. The Chancellor, as I knew him then, was a formidable but approachable man without pretense. As a 17- year-old with limited insight or concern about our relative stations in life, I struck up a conversation with this angular gentleman, who had been kind enough to invite me and other entering freshmen to his residence for a weekend picnic before classes began. Our very first conversation was devoid of small talk — it was substantive and far-ranging and in 15 minutes, he had me thinking about things I had never considered before. I was transfixed — and a 46-year friendship was borne.
In many ways, Bill and I were opposites (beyond the obvious difference in physical stature). And the more I got to know him in those early years, the more I aspired to adopt some of his remarkable characteristics.
While I was quick to absorb the facts, process them and respond, Bill would think deeply, seek out and consider other opinions and assess second and third order effects before responding. Bill taught me judgment.
While I was unwilling to tolerate the slow pace at which many human processes moved, Bill understood that commitment from others often required individuals to get to the objective in their own way and in their own time. Bill taught me patience.
While I regularly had high conviction that my way was the right way, Bill had a habit of encouraging others to take the lead and then helping them succeed. Bill taught me the power of quiet leadership.
And the lessons continued for a lifetime.
I am who I am in no small measure because of the time I spent with Bill — and the personal energy and care he invested in me.
I am fully aware of the unmatched and remarkable contributions Bill Danforth made to the University, the St. Louis community and the broader global community, but my fondest memories are personal — of the time we spent in deep discussions over five decades, of the kindness he and Ibby shared with Jane and me at times of triumph and tragedy and of the questions he would ask that allowed me to unveil my own truth.
William A. Peck, MD
Former Dean of the School of Medicine and Executive Vice Chancellor for Medical Affairs
When I was dean of the School of Medicine, I met with Bill Danforth regularly to discuss how best to advance the medical school. Having served as a physician-scientist and leader of the medical school before he became chancellor, Bill had a deep understanding of the tripartite mission of the school. He had excelled at all three. He was a great leader, very thoughtful and very interested in others’ thoughts.
My wife, Pat, and I always admired Bill’s remarkable way of relating with people, never offending, always thoughtful and always with the intent of doing what is right.
Executive Vice Chancellor, University Advancement
Over the past 28 years, I have had the privilege of working with Dr. Danforth in many different capacities. I left every experience feeling a little bit wiser and filled with gratitude for the countless ways that he enriched the lives of so many, myself included. For me one of the greatest memories will be watching the faces of our alumni as I accompanied Bill Danforth into the Brookings Quadrangle for reunion. The admiration and love our alumni showed him, and Bill’s genuine interest in what they had been doing since graduating, was beautiful. I will miss him deeply and cherish the time I spent with him.
Philip Needleman, PhD
Chair, School of Medicine National Council
Former Chair, Department of Pharmacology
Former Chief Scientist for Monansto/Searle/Pharmacia
I met Bill in the early 60s when I was a postdoctoral fellow and Bill was a young cardiologist studying cardiac glycogen metabolism. I watched, interacted, learned, admired and debated with him for decades. Considering the journey and the impact my quote is “what a joy it must have been to be Bill Danforth”.
Mr. Albert Ip, BS’73
Chair, International Regional Cabinet – Hong Kong
Dear Danforth Family Members,
Very sorry to hear that the Honourable Emeritus Chancellor William Danforth passed away on September 16, 2020.
I had the privilege to be a student of Dr. Danforth, graduating in 1973, receiving my BS degree diploma on stage at Brookings Quadrangle. That memorable moment still stays with me vividly.
Over the last 50 years, Dr. Danforth elevated Washington University in St. Louis to become a world class global university, 25 years as Chancellor and the last 25 years as Emeritus Chancellor and Trustee. His wisdom, vision, leadership and most of all his humble personality as an individual with heart and care are unmatched.
In Hong Kong, where many alumni and I had the pleasure of greeting Dr. William Danforth during his visits here and China, he will be fondly remembered. I had the privilege of lunches with Dr. Danforth in Hong Kong and walking in the Peak after one lunch, where he stimulated me about his vision in Higher Education, locally and globally. His footprints are everywhere, especially in Hong Kong and China. Whenever we think of Washington University in St. Louis, we remember Emeritus Chancellor Danforth as a world class academic leader, a distinguished researcher and a philanthropist.
In St. Louis, I had the opportunity of visiting Dr. Danforth at his office in Clayton a few times. Always a most stimulating and engaging conversation, I was touched by his kindness to drive me back to campus and Knight Center after the meeting.
On behalf of over 300 alumni living and working in Hong Kong, benefitting from an excellent education at Washington University in St. Louis, we convey our deepest condolences. Dr. Danforth’s legacy will be remembered forever and stay deep in our hearts. May he rest in peace!!
Timothy J. Eberlein, MD
Bixby Professor and Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor, School of Medicine
Director, Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center
Senior Associate Dean for Cancer Programs
Bill Danforth was actively involved on the BJC Board, on which I previously served. Like so many, I benefitted from Bill’s sage advice and wise counsel. His Socratic method of asking questions was like peeling back the layers of an onion, getting to the heart of the matter. In later years we became very close friends. His love of Washington University and St. Louis and always striving for excellence set him apart. While he was kind and gentle, he never shied away from making tough decisions. For sure, Bill Danforth made all of us better. Our university and our community are better because of his leadership. We can all pay tribute to his memory by striving for that excellence that he achieved and emulating his many wonderful characteristics.
Virginia V. Weldon, MD, ScD h.c.’17
Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics and former Deputy Vice Chancellor for Medical Affairs
I was sitting in my office at Monsanto when the phone rang. It was Bill Danforth. He said, ‘Ginny I have an idea. What would you think if you and I and Peter Raven got together and planned a plant science center?’ Having responded to other ideas from Bill that lead to successful organizations (eg. Missouri Cures and BioSt.Louis), I knew this could be a winner. Peter and I were scheduled to travel with Bill to a meeting of the National Academy of Sciences’ report review committee at the western location of the Academy. We discussed this idea that evening over wine in our hotel and the rest is history.
Inderdeep Singh, MBA ’85, MS ’86
International Advisory Council member
New Delhi, India
Dr. Danforth was a wonderful human being and one of the finest people I ever met. Warm, gentle, humble, caring and always helpful to everybody around him, he loved Washington University and was always focussed on how to make Wash U and the St. Louis community better. In his passing, we have lost a true friend to many, a leader and institution builder, and a great citizen of St. Louis and of the world.
Our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones. May his soul rest in everlasting peace, and may the Almighty give strength to the family to bear the irreplaceable loss.
With a deep sense of loss.
Ambassador Sam Fox, BSBA ’51
Bill Danforth transformed Washington University. It was already an excellent school when he arrived – that shouldn’t be overlooked – but he clearly elevated it to a new level. And one of the truly astounding things about that is that he accomplished it with a minimum of ruffled feathers. He was such a genuinely kind man, with such a soft and humane manner. Even in the rare situations when he would be critical of someone or some situation, he would express himself in such a careful and gentle way that it was nearly impossible for anyone to take offense.
That was one key to his success. Another was a lack of egotism. In all the years I worked with him, I never once heard him speak about the wonderful things he accomplished for the university. It was never about himself. It was about other people at the university whom he admired.
Both of these qualities made him a leader who was universally liked and respected. Academic politics are notoriously harsh. Yet not once during Bill’s decades of service to the university did I ever hear anyone say anything but good things about him. And these qualities also made him a wonderful leadership model for all the young people that a university serves.
A chancellor is a manager, of course, and Bill was one of the best. Over the years there were many times when I, as a member of the board of trustees, needed to come to him for guidance. Again and again in these situations, no matter what the issue or problem, I found him to be both insightful and practical in his advice. He knew how to cut through serious problems and, again, with a minimum of turmoil.
After he “retired” from Washington University, Bill had a whole new career. More than anyone else, he pointed St. Louis in the direction of the life sciences. He established and for many years led as chairman the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and helped spearhead the development of Cortex, the innovation community in midtown St. Louis. Both have been enormously successful, and together they have helped make St. Louis a world leader in the life sciences. The future of our community and world are brighter because of this accomplishment.
I will miss Bill Danforth personally. But more importantly, Washington University, St. Louis, the nation and the world will miss him. A humble man, the imprint he left was spectacular.
Mark S. Wrighton, PhD
James and Mary Wertsch Distinguished University Professor
It is said that you cannot choose your parents, and it can also be said you cannot choose your predecessor. If I had the opportunity to choose, knowing what I now know, I would have insisted that Bill Danforth be my predecessor as Chancellor. It is so fortunate that he was!
I interacted with Bill on at least two occasions through the interview process, and each time I knew that I was in the presence of a giant in higher education. Bill agreed to serve as Chairman of the Board of Trustees as I began my tenure as Chancellor. I knew no one in St. Louis, and he knew everyone. He was generous in spending time to introduce me to the University and to the community. He shared with me his perspective but never in a directive way, and he was enormously tolerant of my different style and areas of emphasis.
When I met Risa and started to bring her to University events, he and his wife Ibby were warm and generous to both of us, and they drew us closer to the University family. Throughout my 24-year tenure as Chancellor, I drew wise counsel from Bill through scheduled one-on-one meetings. We often opened and closed evening events together, and he served as an inspiring role model always.
I could never imagine a more valuable and effective mentor, and I am deeply grateful for the many great experiences we had together in St. Louis, around the country and in Asia and Europe. Bill built respect for the importance of community at Washington University, one of his greatest legacies.
Personally, Bill’s support for me and Risa will be a memory I cherish for all my days.