Henry Riggs, retired engineering professor and entrepreneur, dies at 80

A memorial service will take place today for Henry E. "Hank" Riggs, professor emeritus of engineering and a former vice president of development.

Henry E.

Henry E. “Hank” Riggs, a Stanford professor emeritus of engineering and former vice president of development, died earlier this month at his home in Palo Alto. (Image credit: Lee Salem Photography)

Henry E. “Hank” Riggs, an early proponent of teaching entrepreneurship and a leader in higher education, died June 10 at his home in Palo Alto. He was 80.

A memorial service will be held at 2:30 p.m. today (Tuesday, June 23) in the Arrillaga Alumni Center.

Riggs was a former vice president for development at Stanford and the Thomas W. and Joan B. Ford Professor of Engineering, emeritus. After his retirement from Stanford in the 1980s, he served as president of Harvey Mudd College and founded the Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences, both in Claremont, Calif.

“He continually sought out challenges, and his vision fundamentally shaped every institution with which he was involved,” said his daughter Katie Riggs. “Throughout his life, his abiding passion was for teaching, and he taught up until a few weeks before his death.”

Riggs was known for riding a bike to campus and wearing a suit and signature bowtie, his daughter added.

After graduating from Stanford with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering (1957) and an MBA from Harvard Business School (1960), Riggs worked as president of Icore Industries and chief financial officer of Measurex Corporation. He began teaching part time at Stanford in 1967 and joined the faculty full time in 1974. His best-known course at Stanford was IE 133, Industrial Accounting.

From 1978 to 1983, Riggs served as chair of the Stanford Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management Department. In 1980, he received the Walter J. Gores Award from the university for excellence in teaching.

In 1983, Riggs became Stanford’s vice president for development. In this role he designed and oversaw the Stanford Centennial Campaign.

In 1988, Riggs was named president of Harvey Mudd College. During his nine years in that position, the college expanded its campus, increased its enrollment and endowment, and launched new departments in biology and computer science.

Riggs’ early career as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur left him convinced that colleges and universities needed to be more flexible and entrepreneurial to serve their students and the public good. In 1997, he founded the seventh Claremont College, the Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences, and served as the institution’s first president until 2003.

Riggs wrote books and articles on accounting, management and finance for students and the general public. His influential 2011 New York Times op-ed, “The Price of Perception,” challenged the practices by which top-tier colleges set tuition rates. He also served on numerous corporate and nonprofit boards.

In his personal life, Riggs had two great loves: his family and travel. He and his wife, Gayle, saw much of the world from their bicycles and Eurovan. At age 70, Riggs bought his first boat, named  “It’s About Time,” and became a skilled captain. Five years later he solo-captained the boat to Alaska and back.

Riggs was born on Feb. 26, 1935, and grew up in Hinsdale, Ill. He met Gayle Carson when they were both undergraduates at Stanford; they married in 1958.

In addition to his wife, Riggs is survived by a sister, Ruth Wendel; children, Betsy McCarthy of Seattle, Peter Riggs of Harstine Island, Wash., and Katie Riggs of Burlingame, Calif.; and six grandchildren.