Kenneth MacLean Cuthbertson, who organized the two largest fund-raising campaigns in the history of American higher education while working for Stanford in the 1960s and 1970s, died on Sunday, April 30, at The Sequoias in Portola Valley, Calif., of Parkinson’s disease. He was 81.

Kenneth Cuthbertson portrait

Kenneth Cuthbertson (Image credit: Chuck Painter / Stanford News Service)

During his 17 years as a vice president, Stanford moved into second place nationally, behind Harvard, in total gift support. Following his retirement from Stanford in 1977, Cuthbertson served as president of the James Irvine Foundation in San Francisco and Irvine, Calif.

Born April 8, 1919, in San Francisco, the son of prominent seedsman F. G. Cuthbertson, Kenneth graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford and was student body president in 1940. He married Coline Upshaw, the student body vice president, in 1941.

After attending Harvard Business School for a year, Cuthbertson served five years in the Navy and then returned to Stanford to earn an MBA in 1947. While he was in the Navy, he contracted polio, which left his right leg partially paralyzed. Although he had to use a cane, he continued to be active throughout his life.

Cuthbertson became a management consultant with McKinsey & Co. in San Francisco and a partner in Levison Brothers Insurance brokerage before returning to Stanford in 1954 as assistant to university president J. E. Wallace Sterling. Cuthbertson was named one of the university’s first three vice presidents in 1960.

With Sterling and Provost Fred Terman, Cuthbertson helped to define Stanford’s goals of attracting top faculty, developing programs to meet their needs and finding endowment support.

In the late 1960s, Cuthbertson told the Faculty Senate that reductions had to be made in the university budget. He solicited faculty and student advice for those cuts and for a major new fund-raising campaign.

“I resist the idea that learning and teaching should be ‘administered’ in a university,” he wrote in 1967. “Servants like me and the janitor can get our kicks out of providing the means and services which allow faculty and students to learn and teach under optimal circumstances.”

Cuthbertson in 1960 conducted the first national survey of long-term fiscal planning for higher education by studying 20 private universities. The information provided by the survey was used by the Ford Foundation in its major institutional grants program.

A $25 million Ford Foundation matching grant sparked Stanford’s record-setting $114 million PACE (Plan of Action for a Challenging Era) campaign of 1961-64. Cuthbertson led the effort and also directed the $300 million Campaign for Stanford, which set another new national benchmark in 1972-77. During both campaigns, Cuthbertson contributed part of his own salary to the fundraising efforts.

“Many people refer to that remarkable period of growth at Stanford as the Sterling-Terman era, but I think of it as the Sterling-Terman-Cuthbertson era,” Donald Kennedy, president emeritus of Stanford, says about that period. “Ken really was the founder of modern academic development strategy.

“Ken was wonderfully thoughtful not only about the university and its value but also about the kind of community it was,” Kennedy added. “In a time of great change in the university, he was able to make everyone feel they were still part of the Stanford family. And that was a real challenge. He won and retained the respect of this faculty, and was very well regarded.”

At Stanford’s 90th Commencement ceremonies in 1981, Kennedy announced the creation of the Kenneth M. Cuthbertson Award. Funded by an anonymous donor, it is awarded annually to members of the Stanford community who have contributed to the goals of the university.

When asked if her husband had ever considered a different career, Coline Cuthbertson once told a Stanford Daily interviewer: “Although he might deny it, he’s always wanted to be a faculty person. In fact, in his next life, I think he’ll come back as a Stanford professor.”

In addition to his wife, Cuthbertson is survived by two daughters, Janet Whitchurch of Palo Alto and Nancy Cuthbertson of Rutherford; two sons, Tom of Santa Cruz and Jim of Berkeley; and 11 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Memorial gifts may be made to Stanford University by sending donations to Memorial Gifts, 301 Encina Hall, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-6076.

A memorial service will be held at a later date.