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Campus celebrates the life of former President Richard Lyman

At a campus memorial service Tuesday, former Stanford president Richard Lyman was celebrated for his commitment to the university, his love of family and his courage in tumultuous times. He was 88 when he died on May 27, 2012.

L.A. Cicero Rev. Robert Gregg at podium in Memorial Church

Rev. Robert Gregg, dean emeritus of Memorial Church, spoke at the memorial service for former President Richard W. Lyman on Tuesday.

It began with a cello and piano sonata and ended with Benny Goodman's theme song, "Goodbye." And in between, friends, colleagues and the children of Richard W. Lyman shared stories about the former Stanford president's gifts as a scholar, university administrator and family man.

Lyman, Stanford's seventh president, served from 1970 to 1980. He held many posts during his 25 years at the university: history professor, associate dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, provost, president, and founder and director of the center now known as the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

In 1972, Lyman launched the $300 million Campaign for Stanford, then the largest fundraising campaign in the history of higher education. The successful five-year drive raised money for the endowment, buildings, endowed chairs and financial aid.

But Lyman's Stanford legacy was largely shaped by his three years as provost and the early years of his presidency, a time he recounted in Stanford in Turmoil: Campus Unrest, 1966-1972, which was published by Stanford University Press in 2009.

During those years, students demonstrated for racial equality and against military research, CIA recruiting and ROTC training on campus.

"Whether I got it published or not, I wanted my version of what happened in those years on record, so that anybody writing the history of Stanford would have to stumble over what I had to say about it," Lyman told Stanford Report in 2009.

The 200-page memoir gave a behind-the-scenes look at several watershed university decisions: to ban classified research on campus; to increase the admission of black students and to hire more black faculty; to summon police to quell violent protests against the Vietnam War; and to fire a tenured professor for allegedly inciting students to disobey a police order during a 1971 anti-war protest.

A service of his own design

Robert C. Gregg, a longtime friend of Lyman and a former dean of Stanford Memorial Church, presided at Tuesday's memorial service, which Gregg noted was of Lyman's own design, from the choice of music to his choice of speakers and the "tone that should be kept."  Gregg said that a dozen years ago, Lyman wrote him a letter discussing the kind of service he hoped for. "I shan't be there to demonstrate my customary fidgety impatience with overlong speeches," Gregg recalled Lyman writing. "'What you select as remarks will be fine.'"

Gregg, a professor emeritus of religious studies at Stanford, quoted verses from the book of Luke to demonstrate what he called "Dick Lyman's way of life."

"'Do not judge and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Give and it will be given to you. For the measure you give will be the measure you will get back. '"

A professor of history

David M. Kennedy, professor of history emeritus, and faculty director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West, talked about Lyman as the teacher he encountered as an undergraduate in the early '60s. He recalled that Lyman had little patience with a weak or uninformed argument, and that from the first day "the whiff of intellectual combat filled the air. He could surely dish it out and he did so with gusto."  But Kennedy noted that Lyman's challenges were "artfully modulated by deep humanity, sympathy, humor and avuncular regard." 

Moreover, Kennedy said, Lyman was gracious in the face of a solid intellectual challenge: "On more than one occasion, he modeled for us how to concede a point when presented with a better argument." Kennedy noted that among the lessons he learned from Lyman was "how to frame historical questions creatively and responsibly."

Foundation leader

Kenneth Prewitt, a Columbia University professor, worked with Lyman at the Rockefeller Foundation after Lyman was picked as the foundation's president in 1980. "He was really eager to get back to this campus," Prewitt said at the memorial service, adding that Lyman missed the "scholarly instinct of self-correction and the power of peer review."

Prewitt promised to keep his remarks about Lyman "short and to the point.  I suspect everyone in this room can hear him saying that. Few phrases capture him so precisely."

Prewitt added that at the Rockefeller Foundation, it was not performance metrics that mattered to Lyman. It was principles.  He described him as "ruthlessly realistic. He had a remarkable ability to be confident that he was right without ever, ever sounding righteous."

Prewitt called Lyman a child of the Enlightenment. "Reason had to be protected. Reason mattered.  What he stood for on this campus he projected wherever he was."

'Foxhole friends'

Stanford English Professor Nancy Packer recalled the evening she and her late husband, Herbert, a former vice provost of institutional planning and programs, met Richard and Jing Lyman at a dinner party, 55 years ago. She talked about how Lyman navigated the firestorms of anti-war and Black Student Union protests.  

"We became foxhole friends," Packer said.

Packer said Lyman always demonstrated great courage and intelligence as he saw Stanford through those tumultuous times.

"Above all, he had to be a fair and firm leader.  Even his most outspoken critics never doubted Dick's moral and mental strength," Packer said.

Family man

Following a musical interlude in which two of Lyman's granddaughters, Tina and Tessa Antolini, sang "By My Side" from Godspell, three of Lyman's children reflected on the former president as a father. Timothy Roe Lyman talked about his father's acceptance of him as a gay man and his father's love for the quirky irreverence and deadpan wit of his life partner, Alden.

As children, said daughter Jennifer Page Lyman, "We posed a threat, if not a knockout blow, to rationality." She described her father as "formal, rigorous, prepared, dedicated and sincere." She told of how after she made the transition from public defender to law professor, her father told her she was a natural and began addressing her mail to "Professor Lyman," a moniker she felt was appropriate only for him.

She talked about her father's love for food. "He didn't like surprises, but he did like an adventure. One of his longest adventures was in food." He also loved T.S. Eliot.  Jennifer closed her remarks with a reading of a stanza from The Naming of Cats.

Before ending with another offering from Eliot – Four Quartets – daughter Holly Lyman Antolini began her remarks with a message from Jing Lyman who, she said, was there in sprit though she could not attend the service because of illness.  

Holly noted that each member of the Lyman family could be identified as a character in Winnie-the-Pooh. She described her father as Eeyore, the gloomy donkey. But she insisted that her father had a "counter current of hope." That counter current, she said, made her father an "agnostic rather than the atheist he might have been," and made it possible for him to become president of Stanford at the young age of 46. She said though her father was a famously introverted man he had a profound gift for friendship and "took delight in and held respect for the capabilities of others."