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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

John Harvard's Journal

First Fellow's Farewell

March-April 2002

Concluding 27 years of service as a member of the Harvard Corporation, Robert G. Stone Jr. '45 will step down as a Fellow of Harvard College at the end of the academic year. Stone has been Senior Fellow of the University's executive governing board since 1995, when his classmate Charles P. Slichter '45, Ph.D. '49, LL.D. '96, retired from the Corporation. Having previously served as national cochair of the $2.6-billion University Campaign through its conclusion in 1999, Stone then chaired the search leading to the appointment of Lawrence H. Summers as Harvard's twenty-seventh president.

Robert Stone
Helmsman of the Harvard Corporation, Senior Fellow Robert G. Stone Jr. is retiring.
Photograph by Jon Chase / Harvard News Office

Stone, who graduated from the College in 1947 following service in the U.S. Army during World War II, combined the study of economics with a passion for rowing; in his senior year, he captained the heavyweight crew team that set a world record for the 2,000 meters. He has sustained that interest in various ways: as a trustee of the National Rowing Foundation; through the participation of his children R. Gregg Stone III '75, J.D. '79, and Jennifer P. Stone '80, M.D. '86, in crew during their undergraduate years; and most recently, through his family's endowment of the men's heavyweight-crew coach position. Stone's professional and personal lives have been entwined with boats and water: he had a long career in the shipping industry, as president and chairman of States Marine Lines, and then chairman of Kirby Corporation; and he anticipates his twenty-third biennial Newport-to-Bermuda race this June.

President Summers hailed Stone as "a tremendous colleague and friend--spirited and wise, with an infectious enthusiasm for everything he does" and with "constant concern that Harvard always strive to improve itself." President emeritus Neil L. Rudenstine cited Stone's "instinctive, deep understanding of the University and its values. He cares about students and staff, as well as about the academic strength of Harvard's departments and schools." Stone himself cited Derek Bok, Rudenstine, and Summers, whose "leadership qualities across the decades have made Harvard an institution I have long been proud to consider my home away from home."

Though he keeps his counsel as a Corporation member scrupulously private, Stone has become widely known as a prodigious fundraiser. In fact, he has done more than any other individual to furnish and refurbish that "home away from home" throughout the decades, co-leading both the University Campaign and its predecessor, the $358-million Harvard Campaign, which ran from 1979 to 1984. In a May 2000 address celebrating the University Campaign, Rudenstine reported, "Bob Stone's long and large shadow quickly became one of the icons of the fund drive: instantly recognizable far in the distance, it allowed plenty of time for people to dive off their respective boulevards into the surrounding shrubbery, or simply scatter indiscriminately." Lest too many prospective large donors cower in the greenery, Stone famously corralled them during private meetings at the New York Yacht Club. Thousands of alumni heard him report on the University's financial condition in general (which he monitored as a director of Harvard Management Company) and on the roll of increasingly astounding reunion-class gifts during the Commencement afternoon exercises each June.

As counselor and fundraiser extraordinaire, Stone provided a welcome mixture of calm and enthusiasm. "You had the sense that whatever events were swirling, whatever financial problems were tumbling around, he was there with perspective and steadiness," said Jeremy R. Knowles, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, after Stone's announcement. Despite years of work on Harvard's behalf, and thousands of hours of campaigning, "he never became jaded, he never became 'accustomed,'" Knowles added. "That he retained his curiosity and freshness is really remarkable."

Those traits were on display in a brief conversation at Loeb House after a mid-January Corporation meeting. Asked about Harvard's priorities today, Stone pointed to the as-yet unplanned use of the land in Allston, perhaps for several professional schools: "It is a very, very exciting thing. It could be absolutely stimulating. It could have an impact on graduate education all over the world." He foresaw a real need to "improve the sciences." He listed several ways to "improve the quality of undergraduate education and life" ("Larry is committed to that, and I think you'll see a lot being done"), ranging from adding professors to reduce the student-faculty ratio, to possibly building another residential House to "relieve critical cramping."

Contemplating that agenda, Stone admitted, "I wish I could be here another 10 years." And in a sense, he will be. Even as he relinquishes his Corporation seat, he will remain chair of the Committee on University Resources, the advisory group of lead alumni donors; chair of the Asia Center, sustaining his contacts in and passion for the culture of China and other nations, built during wide travels throughout his shipping career; and his Harvard Management Company board membership.

Those engagements should allow Stone to sustain the personal Harvard connections he cares about most. William H. Boardman calls Stone "almost a consummate consultant," not in the sense of a number-crunching analyst, but for his "unerring sense of quality of leadership, for his instinctual sense of people and how to proceed." (As associate vice president for capital giving, Boardman has worked closely with Stone for the past quarter-century, using space in Stone's Manhattan office suite as the base for Harvard's development efforts in New York.)

First among those personal ties--Boardman calls it "the most important thing in terms of his heart"--is Stone's contact with "his students." For he practices what he preaches, soliciting contributions to Harvard while also making them, not simply by endowing the crew-coach slot and diverse academic initiatives, but also by establishing in 1979, at the beginning of that capital campaign, a financial-aid fund named for his late father, Robert G. Stone '20, which this academic year supports 27 students (bringing the total number of beneficiaries to more than 200). Before each of the 15 or so Corporation meetings annually, Stone breakfasts with some of those students, whom he pumps for information about "what's right and wrong with Harvard" and whom he encourages and later advises in their careers.

"That's really the excitement of the place," he said, citing the diversity of the student body as the most significant change in the institution since his own undergraduate days. "Need-blind admission," he said, "has done more to change Harvard than anything, and that is what has attracted the best and brightest faculty. That is really what has kept Harvard up at the top."

Speaking to classmates in a medium he obviously found comfortable, Stone wrote in 1995--for the class of 1945's fiftieth anniversary report--that his "Harvard involvement, as a member of the Corporation,...is probably the most worthwhile thing I have done in my lifetime." Of "the people running Harvard--and teaching there," he wrote, "the real privilege of being a Corporation member is getting to know so many of these outstanding individuals." Or as he put it in January, once his retirement as a Fellow was announced, "I have a lot of friends here, a lot of people I admire fantastically."

A search for Stone's successor, care of the Secretary to the Corporation, is now under way. Upon his retirement, the longest-serving Corporation members will be D. Ronald Daniel, M.B.A. '54, who was appointed Treasurer in 1989, and James R. Houghton '58, M.B.A. '62, who became a Fellow in 1995.