Robert P. Huff, Stanford's first financial aid director, dead at 89

"What I most enjoy is seeing students, particularly those who have had difficult kinds of financial problems, graduate and go on to successful careers," Huff said in a 1991 interview with "Campus Report." "That's what makes it all worthwhile."

Robert P. Huff

Robert P. Huff (Image credit: Courtesy Margaret Huff)

A memorial service will be held Saturday, March 19, in Palo Alto, Calif., for Robert Pernell Huff, a nationally recognized leader in the field of college student financial aid who served as Stanford’s first financial aid director from 1958 to 1994.

Huff died of cancer on March 7 in Palo Alto, following a short illness. He was 89.

The memorial service will be held at 9:30 a.m. at the Alta Mesa Funeral Home,  695 Arastradero Road, Palo Alto.

During his tenure as financial aid director, Huff served under five Stanford presidents, beginning with J.E. Wallace Sterling and ending with Gerhard Casper.

During the 36 years Huff served as financial aid director, his job grew in scope and complexity. He began working in a cubicle in the Inner Quad with one full-time secretary and two half-time assistants. Later, he moved into Old Union, where he oversaw a staff of 21 permanent employees. In the early days, he spent most of his time dealing one-on-one with students. Although the individual problems of students remained his primary concern, in later years Huff spent most of his time on budgets: forecasting needs and ascertaining what sources of support would be available to meet those needs.

“What I most enjoy is seeing students, particularly those who have had difficult kinds of financial problems, graduate and go on to successful careers,” Huff said in a 1991 interview with Campus Report.  “That’s what makes it all worthwhile.”

A national leader

Huff was a national leader in the field of college student financial aid. He was a chair of the College Scholarship Service Assembly and Council; the founding president of the California Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators; and a trustee of the College Board.

He served as president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, which established the annual Robert P. Huff Golden Quill Award in his honor. Each year, the award honors an individual or individuals for their contributions to the literature on student financial aid. Huff, who received the first Golden Quill Award in 1984, was the founding editor of the association’s Journal of Student Financial Aid, an open-access, peer-reviewed journal. He served as editor of the journal from 1971 to 1984.

Justin Draeger, president of the association, described Huff as “a financial aid veteran, a scholar, a mentor to many and a friend to students.”

“Bob devoted his career to helping those from low-income backgrounds make their college-going dreams a reality,” Draeger said. “He will be remembered for the significant

contributions he made to the profession over his 36-year tenure. We will continue to present the Robert P. Huff Golden Quill Award each year.”

The association twice presented Huff with one of its highest honors, the Allan W. Purdy Distinguished Service Award, in 1978 and 1980.

In 1994, when Stanford gave Huff the title “emeritus director of financial aid,” he became a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he continued to advise, write and conduct research in the field. In 1998, the Hoover Institution Press published his 20-page essay, “Reeingeering College Student Financial Aid,” in its Essays in Public Policy series.

Huff, who was born on Aug. 28, 1926, in Santa Barbara, Calif., served in the U.S. Army from 1944-1946.

Three degrees at Stanford

He earned three degrees at Stanford: a bachelor’s degree in history (1948), a master’s degree in political science (1949), and a doctorate in political science (1966). Before becoming financial aid director, he held several positions in the Dean of Men Office, including assistant dean of men. He earned his doctorate while working full-time.

“When he’d finished his university responsibilities for the day, Huff would walk to the library (where he had a key to the documents room), and dig into the materials he needed in order to write his dissertation,” according to a 1989 story in Campus Report, the precursor to Stanford Report. “His topic was the Spanish Question before the United Nations (a number of countries sought to bring sanctions against Franco’s Spain, particularly for its ties with the Axis powers in World War II).”

Huff, who was a member of the Stanford Faculty Club for 50 years, took an active role in the organization following his retirement, most recently serving as secretary.

Ray Purpur, deputy director of athletics and president of the Faculty Club, said Huff touched many lives on campus over the years, from the students who were able to come to Stanford through his efforts as financial aid director to the members, executive officers and board of directors of the Faculty Club.

“Bob really emphasized the social in the mission of the Faculty Club as a social club,” Purpur said. “He was an avid user of the club and knew just about everyone. He loved to walk and was a frequent walker on our sports fields. He was also a huge Stanford Athletics sports fan and an avid golfer.  As recently as last month, he offered sound advice to me on our sports teams, on the golf course, and the operations of the club. He will be missed.”

Huff met his wife, Mary Harriette (McHan) Huff, at Stanford, where she was a chemistry graduate student. The couple raised two children in their campus home and enjoyed bridge, golf and weekly square dancing. They were fans of Stanford sports, especially men’s football and basketball. They had been married 67 years when she died in 2015.

Huff’s son, Robert P. Huff III of San Jose, Calif., said his father was always very upset when Stanford lost the “Big Game,” the annual football game against the University of California, Berkeley. He fondly remembers golfing with his father during the Father’s Day tournament at Stanford’s golf course – an event they attended for more than 20 years.

Huff’s daughter, Margaret Huff of Lake Oswego, Ore., said her father had a rich life, including a loving family and a long career in a field he was passionate about.

“My father received recognition for his contributions and made many friends across the country along the way,” she said. “He lived in this incredible Stanford community surrounded by friends and colleagues. He enjoyed good health and remained active for many years in the pursuits he enjoyed.”

In addition to his son and daughter, Huff is survived by brothers David and Edward Huff, both of Santa Barbara, Calif., and six grandchildren.

Media Contacts

Elaine Ray, Stanford Report: (650) 723-7162, ray@stanford.edu