In Memoriam: David Alexander
David Alexander passed away on July 25 from a prolonged illness at the age of 77. Alexander was the seventh President of Pomona College, serving with distinction, creativity, and compassion for 22 years, from 1969 to 1991. Devoted to Pomona College, he was a leader in the world of higher education.
During his tenure, Pomona College's endowment grew from $24 million to $296 million, the faculty increased from 130 to 156, and the campus expanded with 15 major buildings. A Rhodes scholar, Alexander earned his undergraduate degree from Southwestern at Memphis (now Rhodes College) in Greek in 1953 and earned a D. Phil. in church history, Greek and Hebrew from Oxford University in 1957. President Alexander was a lifelong friend to Pomona College. He remained an active part of the community, continuing to attend events and support students up to the most recent academic year.
The Pomona College memorial service for David Alexander held on Saturday, September 25 at 4:00 p.m. in Bridges Hall of Music.
Gifts in memory of David Alexander may be sent to:
- Pomona College, c/o Don Pattison, 550 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711;
- The Rhodes Trust, c/o Elliot Gerson, American Secretary, 8220 Boone Blvd., Suite 240, Vienna, VA 22182;
- and Rhodes College, c/o Loyd Templeton, 2000 N. Parkway, Memphis, TN 38112.
Pomona College Magazine Obituary
The following is the obituary printed in the fall 2010 issue of Pomona College Magazine:
Like all those who have had the honor of serving as president of Pomona College, David Alexander left the College better and stronger than it was when he took office, but David did more--he took the College to another level as he guided it to the very top ranks of the country’s liberal arts colleges. His vision was boundless, and his ability to articulate and realize that vision matchless. On this sad day, Pomona College is able to reach for the stars with great confidence in our future because David shared his “added riches” with all of us for so long and so well.
--Paul F. Eckstein ’62, trustee, July 2010
The death of David Alexander, Pomona’s seventh president, on July 25, 2010, cuts wide and deep for precisely the reasons that his life was so profoundly significant. In a presidency that touched four decades, Alexander did more than fulfill a role--he embodied it, seamlessly blending work and life, doing and being.
The position of college president requires a daunting array of talents and skills, of intellect and practical mastery. As Emerita Professor Virginia Crosby commented at the time of Alexander’s retirement, “Pomona College is a single institution but not a single community. ... To maintain direction for the College, to give consideration to the particular while keeping focused on the whole, has required courage, passion and the art of the invisible hand.” When a day’s work might take one from welcoming an insecure new student to soothing a disgruntled senior trustee, from resolving a philosophical conflict within the faculty to securing an important donation, how does one strike the necessary balances, remain simultaneously open and true to oneself, sympathetic and firm, accessible and authoritative? Patently impossible, one might conclude. And yet, as both the historical record and personal tributes reveal, David Alexander accomplished all this, and more.
Alexander’s 22-year tenure (1969–91) was unusually long in the history of higher education--at the time, the average college presidency lasted six years--and, at Pomona, was second in length only to that of his predecessor E. WilsonLyon (1941–69). Like Lyon, who took office on the eve of World War II, Alexander assumed the role at a tumultuous moment, with the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam War dividing the country in ways that manifested with particular ferocity on campuses. The two presidents had much in common, including a clear and unswerving moral stance (Lyon had risked his career by opposing the McCarthy-inspired “loyalty oath” of 1949 that posed a grave threat to academic freedom; Alexander, as the recent New York Times obituary noted, had taken a similar risk, proposing the desegregation of fraternities at Southwestern at Memphis in 1965). They also shared an abiding commitment to the concept of the residential liberal arts college as community, as family, and when Alexander succeeded Lyon, he inherited the legacy of one who had admirably maintained the near-impossible balancing act that comes with this familial ideal.
Immediate family was an important part of that balance. Alexander arrived in Claremont with young children--Kitty, aged 10, John, 9, and Julia, nearly 2--and an extraordinary partner who understood and embraced the challenging role of presidential spouse. Catharine Coleman Alexander, intellectually gifted and endlessly gracious, played a critical role in creating and maintaining the deep sense of community that marked the Alexander years.
Born in Springfield, Tenn., in 1932, David Alexander attended Southwestern at Memphis (now Rhodes College), graduating in 1953, Phi Beta Kappa with honors in Greek. At Southwestern, he intended to major in music but soon discovered that the required keyboard proficiency was beyond his reach. Undaunted, he turned to the French horn, which remained an abiding interest. A classical scholar with a lifelong interest in theological history, he went on to study at the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and, as a 1954 Rhodes Scholar, at Oxford University’s Christ Church (College). He earned a D.Phil. degree in church history, Greek and Hebrew from Oxford in 1957. In 1965, after teaching for eight years at San Francisco Theological Seminary, Alexander, then 32, was named president of Southwestern at Memphis, his alma mater. Four years later, he succeeded E. Wilson Lyon as Pomona College president; the day of his induction, Oct. 18, 1969, fell on his 37th birthday and within days of the 82nd anniversary of the College.
By all objective measures, Alexander’s presidency was extraordinary. During his tenure, Pomona’s endowment increased more than tenfold, from $24 million to $296 million, the value of its assets from $71 million to $450 million. The College prospered equally in terms of the quality and geographic and ethnic diversity of its faculty and students. The faculty grew; the student body changed dramatically as SAT scores and GPAs rose and the College made the transition from a primarily regional institution to a national liberal arts college with the majority of its students from outside California; and the curriculum expanded significantly. As Professor Deborah Burke comments, “David moved the College in a direction that greatly improved the quality of the education it offered: He increased the number of women faculty, improved understanding of gender issues by creating the Women’s Union in a Walker Hall lounge, and initiated the First Year Seminar program (ID1) to provide students with a small class designed to improve writing and oral presentation.” Enhanced in size, diversity, quality, and curricular innovation, Pomona joined the top tier of the country’s liberal arts colleges.
During Alexander’s tenure, the campus was also significantly transformed by the addition of 15 new buildings and, equally important, the preservation and renovation of many others, perhaps most notably Little Bridges, which, condemned as unsafe in 1969, was saved by a desperate fundraising effort. In 2007, Alexander remarked “I was in office long enough that every building, I think, was renovated at least once, and several residence halls more than once.” Knowledgeable about architecture and the landscape arts, and respectful of tradition, Alexander worked hard to balance the inevitably conflicting needs for continuity and growth. It is significant that when Holmes Hall, one of the College’s oldest structures, had to be replaced in the late ’80s, the new building, modeled on its historic predecessor, was named the David Alexander Hall for Administration.
Pomona presidents are appointed by the Board of Trustees, arguably its most important responsibility, and the relationship is critical. Trustee Marylyn Prosser Pauley ’64 comments: “David led with a quiet and keen intellect that automatically drew the respect of students, faculty and fellow administrators. Trustees felt a steady hand in his leadership that enabled the College to attract top administrative staff and outstanding faculty during a time of rapid growth in the endowment and the built environment. At the same time, Pomona’s outreach to a more diverse universe of prospective students broadened during his presidency.” H. Russell Smith, chair of the board for 18 years, puts it simply: “David Alexander, in all respects, was the personification of excellence.”
The responsibilities of the college president extend far beyond the home campus. For Pomona College to gain in national stature, to take its place among the country’s elite liberal arts institutions--as it did under Alexander’s leadership--required its president to participate actively and effectively in the wider world of higher education. In this arena too, Alexander excelled. Early in his tenure at Pomona, he served as a trustee of the American Council on Education and later as a trustee of the Fellows of the Society of Phi Beta Kappa. Among his many long-time associations over the years to come, he served as a trustee of the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association (TIAA, 1970–2002), the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation (1978–99) and on the Board of Overseers of the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens (1991–2010). He was also a director of KCET, the Seaver Institute, the Great Western Financial Corporation and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. In 2006, he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
One of Alexander’s longest and most distinguished roles beyond the gates was as American secretary of the Rhodes Scholarship Trust (1981–98). In this capacity, he was responsible for overseeing the selection of American applicants for the Rhodes scholarship, highly prestigious, that brings exceptional students to Oxford University. While maintaining and furthering the long and distinguished Rhodes tradition, a task that required close contact with hundreds of institutions of higher education, Alexander worked successfully to diversify the American applicant pool. He was also, as Eliot Gerson, Alexander’s successor in the role of American secretary, noted recently, the “leading historian of the American Scholarships,” having written the American chapter of the history of the Rhodes Trust. “David loved the Rhodes Scholarships, and Oxford, like few others ever have.” In 1998, his service was recognized by Queen Elizabeth II who ordained him Commander of the British Empire.
David Alexander had a deep respect for academic tradition, a trait amply demonstrated in his effort to maintain continuity with Pomona’s history and founding principles while also leading the College forward, in his conviction that a certain distance between faculty and students should be maintained, in the decorum of the College’s ceremonies, and even in his insistence on signing graduates’ diplomas (parchment, of course) with a special pen and India ink. As John Dreyfuss wrote in a 1984 Los Angeles Times profile titled “The Paterfamilias of Pomona College,” Alexander’s formality, which ran counter to the culture of the early 1970s, was sometimes mistaken for aloofness. This was painful for a gregarious individual who cared deeply about people. “I think I am shy in some respects,” he told Dreyfuss. “I’m not hail fellow well met. In a way, I’m sorry about that.”
It may be axiomatic that we all, of necessity, develop a variety of personae to fulfill our various roles. Many of us have had the experience of attending a memorial for someone we knew well--a special friend or mentor with whom we enjoyed a uniquely privileged relationship—only to find a roomful of others who felt the same and, moreover, whose experiences were different, who knew aspects of the person we never glimpsed. Remarkably, one finds in the tributes to David Alexander both breadth and consistency--reflections by a wide variety of individuals who knew him in a wide variety of ways, and who identify not only many of the same characteristics but also qualities rarely found in a single individual. Brilliant, scholarly, accomplished, eloquent, wise, appear side by side with genial, accessible, witty, charming, nurturing, compassionate; reflections on inspired leadership accompany touchingly personal stories. We all knew David Alexander differently from one another, but such was the embrace of his nature that we also, it appears, knew the same extraordinary man.
It was Alexander’s habit to deliver, at Commencement each year, a “charge” to the graduating class. As Lee McDonald ’48, emeritus professor of politics and dean of the College from 1970–75, wrote recently, these were “classics . . . a worthy legacy”; that alumni remember them to this day proves his point. Delivered with an easy eloquence that belied the hard work involved in their preparation, each year’s charge encapsulated Alexander’s convictions and hopes for the graduates, exhorting them to embrace qualities of mind and heart that, one now comes to realize, were those he embodied. In the way of exceptional art, they serve as a portrait of the artist.
Pomona College and your experience during your collegiate years should have taught you one lesson of transcendent value: temper your self-confidence with the assurance that there is more to learn, mitigate your certainties with the awareness of opposing points of view, and bolster your resolve to try always to improve yourself and to work for the improvement of the world around us. The summation of that transcendent lesson is openness: to be open to new and different ideas, to be open to the needs of others, and to be open to learn as much as your life can bring you. (1980)
--By Marjorie Heath and Don Pattison
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2010 issue of Pomona College Magazine.
John David Alexander, president emeritus of Pomona College, who enjoyed one of the longest and most distinguished college presidencies in American higher education, died on July 25, 2010, in Claremont, California. He was 77.
A Rhodes Scholar, David Alexander served as the president of two liberal arts colleges, a professor of Old Testament, the American Secretary of the Rhodes Scholarship Trust, a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, a Distinguished Friend of Oxford University, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Alexander was inducted as the seventh president of Pomona College on October 18, 1969, the day of his 37th birthday and the 82nd anniversary of the College. It was a tumultuous time for the nation and for many colleges and universities, including traditionally tranquil Pomona College. In his inaugural address, “A Perspective on Renewal,” he dealt forthrightly with the threats to American society posed by the Vietnam conflict, which was dangerously divisive. He helped to bridge national and campus concerns by saying “Our task now is to winnow from the welter of changing values those transcendent values for which this college exists, so that while trying to move with society, Pomona College will help move society through education.”
He also addressed the subject of academic freedom. “Often misunderstood and frequently attacked, the concept of academic freedom must continue to animate teaching and research in all colleges and universities. Simply defined, freedom of inquiry means that the sole test of the rectitude of an idea, a fact, or a theory is its rightness, and this correctness can only be tested in as open-minded a manner as fallible man is able to contrive. If the test of truth telegraphs the answer in advance of the actual result, then academic freedom is trammeled and the result itself will falter and eventually die.”
According to David Oxtoby, current president of Pomona College, “David Alexander was a passionate supporter of the liberal arts college in America and served Pomona College with distinction, creativity and compassion. During his tenure as president, Pomona solidified its reputation as one of the nation’s premier liberal arts colleges. In finance, admissions, and national rankings, Pomona grew in excellence during David Alexander’s 22 years of leadership. His dedication, his high aspirations, and his moral integrity were at the core of his extraordinary contribution to making Pomona College what it is today.
“It’s hard to think of David without acknowledging his wife Catharine’s contributions to Pomona,” added Oxtoby. “Theirs was a true partnership, and the College has benefited enormously from her warm, wise and ever-gracious presence.”
During Alexander’s tenure, Pomona’s endowment increased from $24 million to $296 million; faculty grew from 130 to 156; and new construction added 15 major buildings to campus. The geographic and ethnic diversity of the student body increased dramatically as the college made the transition from a primarily regional institution to a national liberal arts college with the majority of its students from outside California. The year after his retirement and in recognition of his leadership and commitment to the campus community, Pomona College named its new administration building the David Alexander Hall of Administration in 1992.
Born in Springfield, Tennessee, in 1932, Alexander attended Southwestern at Memphis (now Rhodes College), graduating in 1953, Phi Beta Kappa with honors in Greek. At Southwestern, he intended to major in music but soon discovered that the keyboard proficiency required was beyond his reach. Undaunted, he turned to the French horn, which remained an abiding passion, while shifting his academic focus to the study of classical and biblical texts and theological history. He went on to study at the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. In 1954, Alexander was named a Rhodes Scholar, and he earned a D.Phil. in Theology from Oxford University (Christ Church) in 1957. In 1965, after teaching for eight years at San Francisco Theological Seminary, Alexander was named president of Southwestern at Memphis, his alma mater, at age 32. Four years later, he succeeded E. Wilson Lyon as Pomona College’s seventh president.
Many consider Alexander’s charges to graduates at commencement to be masterpieces of the genre—beautifully crafted, perceptive, accurate, timeless, spare and inspiring. On one occasion, he said to students: “You will begin to appreciate the elegant paradox that Pomona College will continue to be yours, yet it is not yours. It is ours.” In 1980, he advised graduates that, “Pomona College and your experience during your collegiate years should have taught you one lesson of transcendent value: temper your self-confidence with the assurance that there is more to learn, mitigate your certainties with the awareness of opposing points of view, and bolster your resolve to try always to improve yourself and to work for the improvement of the world around us. The summation of that transcendent lesson is openness: to be open to new and different ideas, to be open to the needs of others, and to be open to learn as much as your life can bring you.” The qualities and habits of mind and heart he exhorted graduates to embrace are ones he himself possessed.
From 1981 to 1998, Alexander served as American Secretary of the Rhodes Scholarship Trust and from that position oversaw the selection of the 32 Americans chosen each year to study at Oxford. He was also the author of “The American Scholarships” in The History of the Rhodes Trust (Oxford UP, 2001) and served as editor of the American Oxonian, the magazine of the Association of American Rhodes Scholars. For his service to Oxford, he was decorated Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1998 and two years later named a Distinguished Friend of Oxford University.
Among his long-time associations, he served as a trustee of the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association (TIAA, 1970-2002), the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation (1978-99) and on the Board of Overseers of the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens (1991-2010). He was also a director of KCET, the Seaver Institute, the Great Western Financial Corporation and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. Early in his tenure at Pomona, he served as a trustee of the American Council on Education and later as a trustee of the Fellows of the Society of Phi Beta Kappa. From 2004, he served as president of the American Friends of the National Portrait Gallery, London. In 2006, he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Alexander frequently contributed to Pomona College Magazine and was the author of an elegant book on the subject of the College’s namesake, The Goddess Pomona: or, A Harvest of Digressions (2007). The text, which traces Pomona’s appearance in literature, art, and popular culture from classical antiquity to the present, epitomizes Alexander’s signature blending of intellect, eloquence and sly wit. Alexander wore his erudition lightly; like the man, the book is, at once, scholarly and engagingly accessible.
Alexander is survived by his wife, Catharine Coleman Alexander of Claremont; two daughters, Kitty Alexander Shirley (William Shirley) of Larchmont, N.Y. and Julia M. Marciari-Alexander (John Marciari) of San Diego; a son, John D. Alexander III of Oakdale, Conn.; five grandchildren (Alexander, Oliver, and Theodora Shirley; and Jack and Beatrice Marciari); and sister Jane Alexander Biedenharn and brother-in-law John U. Biedenharn of Vero Beach, Fla.
To submit your own personal tribute to David Alexander, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yes, David Alexander was the hands-on but scholarly, personally tranquil but professionally dynamic president of Pomona College during my four years in Claremont. But I mainly got to know him as the husband of my employer Catharine Alexander. During my freshman and sophomore years (1977-1979), Catharine hired me on and off to babysit their youngest child, Julia, who must have been about 10 at the time. Julia didn’t really need me to entertain her, so with Catharine’s permission, I used the Alexanders’ kitchen to bake cookies, and Dr. and Mrs. Alexander would wander in at the end of their evening out with words of praise for the mishapened results of my culinary efforts.
My friends and I also served at the Alexanders’ dinner parties, which were marvelous affairs, replete with sparking intellectual conversation, carefree laughter, great wine, food, and friends. In my mind, the dinner parties were always light and summery in tone, the essence of Southern hospitality and elegance blended with California joie de vivre. I think that David, who often had a twinkle in his eye, was amused that one day when Julia and I gathered up our courage and asked Danny Kaye, who was perched on their livingroom sofa wearing tattered huaraches amid a circle of college dignitaries in suits, for an autograph.
In my Metate yearbooks, David Alexander was always the main man in the photo of the David Club. At the time, it seemed like just a funny college gag, but in retrospect, I realize now what this really meant—how close David was to us students and how we could relax, play, and amuse ourselves with him, instead of having the stiff, formal relationship that we might have had with another kind of college president. Many years later, at my 20th reunion in 2001, David tenderly consoled me on the untimely loss of one of my oldest and dearest friends from Pomona--a member of my freshman sponsor group and an occasional server at the Alexanders’ dinner parties. He and Catharine not only remembered me from two decades ago, they also remembered my friends.
Thus, I remember David Alexander as a great man--one who was kind, open-hearted, and gentle--as well as a scholar and leader. I am deeply saddened that David is no longer with us, and my heartfelt condolences reach out to Catharine and her family.
Carole T. Gee '81, Ph.D.
President David Alexander welcomed me to the Pomona College Board of Trustees in May of 1983, opening a winding road of interactions and lasting friendships among people in the various communities of the College: students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni, as well as various visiting scholars and professionals who came to the College during all those years. After David’s retirement from the Presidency of Pomona College in 1991, he and his wife Catharine Alexander continued to live in Claremont, quietly and firmly supporting the College as they found more time for their own scholarly and non-profit interests as well as their family.
While president of the College, David led with a quiet and keen intellect that automatically drew the respect of students, faculty and fellow administrators. Supporting the intelligence that shone outwardly in his inimitable southern grace were a deep curiosity about new ideas and people and their interests as well as a mischievous, wry sense of humor. David’s humor was more often than not turned upon himself.
Trustees felt a steady hand in his leadership that enabled the College to attract top administrative staff and outstanding faculty during a time of rapid growth in the endowment and the built environment. The College’s outreach to a more diverse universe of prospective students broadened during David’s time as President. David led the College through a very successful capital campaign that culminated in the celebration of Pomona College’s centennial in 1987. David’s leadership of the Rhodes Trust gave him an international perspective that he brought to his work at Pomona.
Most of all, I will miss the twinkle in David’s eye as he was about to launch into what always turned out to be a very funny story. Remembering his infectious laugh will continue to delight us in coming years. My love and support go to David’s soul mate Catharine and his three children, Kitty, John and Julia, and the grandchildren. What a legacy he leaves all his family members!
Marylyn Prosser Pauley ‘64
I don't think I actually personally connected with President David Alexander more than once or twice at Pomona but in my mind, when his name is mentioned, I think of a warm, radiant, kind, wise, gracious and funny presence, along with his wife Catherine. Two fond memories come to mind. One was of David Alexander on the stage of Little Bridges playing a green garden hose as if it were the best French horn one could have. The second happened just four years ago when, at our class of '76 dinner during our 30th reunion, I approached David and Catherine Alexander expecting to explain who I was. Their faces lit up and they remembered not only my name but that my family had moved to Texas! David Alexander also immediately gave me their daughter's contact info at Yale because I told him that I now lived in Boston, extending his family's warmth to someone who graduated that many years ago! Amazing...
Harriet (Chris) Chu '76
I really got to know David in New York. Unlike some presidents of colleges I have known, he had an air of bon-vivant. There was something expansive, outreaching, exciting about him--above all, he had style. I remember I put him up for the Century Association in New York, and I took him to the Club to introduce him to the place. The waiter poured us some wine and when he was out of earshot, David said, “Maybe we should get another glass.” “Why?” I asked. “There is a beastie in my glass,” he said. I summoned the waiter, and there was indeed a cockroach in the glass. We never referred to that in subsequent years, but I always smile to myself, thinking that I had introduced a member of the Bohemian Club to a New York club with a cockroach.
David was, in some deep way, a Club man. He enjoyed good wine, good food, and good conversation--something that was obvious to anyone who met him. Something that was perhaps less obvious is what a fluent pen he had. He hardly wrote a two-sentence letter without a distinctive word or phrase, and writing came to him effortlessly. Yet ironically, he never wrote a substantial book, which he always dreamt and planned on doing. He set aside time to write and even got himself a place at the Huntingdon Library, but somehow that act of creation eluded him.
I was not as worried about it as he was. The senior tutor at Balliol College, Oxford, who taught me history, hardly ever published anything. In the fifties, when I was at Oxford just after David, people didn’t think of writing anything until they really had something to say--something they felt hadn’t been said and needed to be said. But David, a naturally competitive person, seemed haunted by the thought that he hadn’t left his mark on scholarship.
More than his Oxford degree, David’s greatest asset was his wife. I have no doubt that David could never have survived all his social and political obligations without Catharine’s grace and encouragement. My wife Linn joins me in sending our deep condolences to Catharine and their three children.
Ved Mehta ‘56
Please excuse this rather public forum as I express my deepest sympathy for your loss.
Since the night of our first meeting, in the rain, in the bar, surely you remember, I have appreciated his friendship, his wit, his humor, his patience, his love of conversation and his willingness to mentor all who sought excellence. That evening was the beginning of the life I know now. How fortunate I was to hear him speak of Pomona College, his vision of sports and my role in that vision.
David will be deeply missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing him and to have been in his company.
Please accept heartfelt sympathy at the loss of your husband and of my friend.
Clarence Motts Thomas, Former Director of Campus Outreach and Multicultural Programs
I was a young, freshly minted Naval Reserve Ensign when I worked as an assistant dean of admissions at Pomona College. David and Catharine Alexander could not have been more welcoming, gracious and hospitable to my wife, Joan, and me.
David was the most gifted orator and erudite leader I’ve ever known. His contributions to the enhanced global reputation of Pomona College are legion.
When we later left Claremont and arrived in Ann Arbor to begin a doctoral program, we met the University of Michigan president and vice president for academic affairs while we were walking near the entry to what is now known as the Fleming Administration Building. They stopped to say “hello” to us and must have sensed we were new arrivals. They asked where we had come from and within a few minutes after Joan said “Pomona College,” the provost asked me to meet with him. Shortly thereafter, I began working in his office. They knew David Alexander and Pomona College.
What David and Catharine Alexander accomplished for Pomona may never be rivaled.
Ritch K. Eich, Ph.D.
I am saddened by the loss of Dr. Alexander. He was always such an interesting, learned, curious, and fair man. I remember he had an incredible memory for personal histories and made me feel quite a bit of value and recognition at Pomona, NOT as a football star, but as a scholar and student. Never could understand why he retired so early, as he had so much going on at all times. He was a real testament, to the value of a Pomona education. “Dr. Dave” will be sorely missed. Vaya Con Dios, Amigo…
Lawrence A. ("Larry") Cenotto V '75
David Alexander came to Pomona shortly after my time there, but I began to realize what an extraordinary person he was through his letters to alumni and from the alumni newsletter. Later, when I met Dr. Alexander at an alumni event, I was charmed as he apologized for being a few minutes late--he had been doing needlework and lost track of time!
At the memorial service for his colleague and personal friend, Doug Moore, President of the University of Redlands, who died while in office, David Alexander chose not to process with the "notables" forming the platform party. He sat quietly in the back of the Redlands Chapel and cried unashamedly for his friend. We will miss him especially for his quintessential humanity.
Mary Scherer '64, Professor Emerita of the University of Redlands
Following my graduation from Pomona in June 1970, the only time I encountered Dr. Alexander was in May 2007 at a meeting of the English-Speaking Union (a nonpolitical, educational charity) in Pasadena, when our Region VIII had the fortune of having him as our banquet speaker. I was utterly thrilled to see his name on the program. When I saw the Alexanders, I introduced myself with an enthusiastic "CHIRP!" and they responded in kind. We then had the delight of explaining our unusual greeting to the other momentarily puzzled guests, including the E-SU's Executive Director from New York! It was a wonderful evening of good conversation and shared memories with the Alexanders.
Dr. Alexander was truly a "Man of the Classics." From his remarks that evening, I recall that he related how we could still take lessons from studying the classics and apply them to our busy, technology-driven lives. I extend my deepest sympathies to his wife Catharine and the Alexander family. It was an honor and a privilege to have known him, and he is much missed.
Loveday Conquest '70, Professor, University of Washington
While I was a freshman and sophomore student at Pomona, I had several opportunities of sitting for the Alexander's daughter, Julia, while President and Mrs. Alexander were out for the evening. Both David and Catherine Alexander were really warm and personable and I remember how President Alexander asked about my classes and interests. I am proud that I attended Pomona under David Alexander's leadership, and I join the many Pomona supporters in sending my sincere sympathy to his beloved family and colleagues.
Melanie Cole Goldberg '83
David Alexander was remarkable for his ability to forge personal relationships with Pomona students; he knew who we were and what we were about, often better than we did ourselves. When he gathered us together, he talked about ideas rather than singing the praises of Pomona College, serenely confident that we could draw all the necessary connections on our own. And he did it all with such a generous sense of humor. Any one of these qualities, the vision, the capacity to inspire, and the humor, are rare enough. Their combination was extraordinary.
Ingrid Rowland '74
During my freshman Opening Convocation, President Alexander uttered some words that have stayed with me for life: "At Pomona, we don't care so much what you do, but that you do it well." And so it is that I have ever since endeavored to do whatever I am doing with the highest standards possible.
Phil Sakimoto '76
The summer before my junior year at Pomona, I received a call from the College asking me to attend a meeting of Orange County alumni to meet the new President of the College. I showed up expecting an evening of rubber chicken and boring speeches. After what I thought was certainly an over-blown introduction, Dr. Alexander rose and began to speak. It seemed that he finished in about two minutes so engaged I was by his command of language, his sonorous voice and his smooth yet genuine delivery. For the next two years and occasionally thereafter, I enjoyed listening to Dr. Alexander speak at College and Alumni functions. He never bored me. I did not get to know him personally but he always made me feel like I was a part of his circle of close associates.
Gary P. Long '71
As a freshman in 1977, one evening I joined a group of students on their way to President Alexander’s home to protest about SOMETHING IMPORTANT, which I no longer remember. We stood in front of his home in the dusk chanting and holding signs. Pretty obnoxious, really. After a bit, Dr. Alexander came out and invited us in to converse about the issue. We were generally stunned and had no good reply. Most people wandered off sheepishly, but some of us went in. We were offered some sort of snacks, had a short conversation about the topic and went on our way. Looking back, I am impressed with the grace and spirit of inquiry with which Dr. Alexander handled the situation. A nice example of a Pomona education outside the classroom.
David Ruch '81
David Alexander introduced me to what a college president could be, and he set the bar quite high. He was excellent in every regard: He connected on a very personal level with the students--both on a group level and as individuals--with great humor and intellect; he was the visionary leader a school like Pomona demands, while remaining pragmatic in his approach to dealing with the challenges of an institution of higher education; and he conveyed the sense of importance of the journey we--students, faculty, and staff alike--were all on, without weighing that message down in pomposity or arrogance, but instead with the humiliation that should come with the privilege of attending a school as esteemed as Pomona. It was a distinct pleasure and honor to speak with him at the last reunion I attended; doing so reminded me that he had a gift for making you feel like speaking with you was what he was most interested in doing in that moment.
David Peattie ’84
I feel shocked and sad to learn that Dr. David Alexander passed away. I still remember well when I was the first exchange scholar to visit Pomona from the People's Republic of China on March 1, 1981. I served as an intern as assistant to the President for one year in his office. I had learnt a great deal from him in the earlier years.
My family and I also remember that he lead a delegation to visit Nanjing University and we started exchange programs between Nanjing and Pomona. Nanjing scholars and Pomona students benefited a lot through this exchange programs supported by Mr. David Drabkin.
A few years ago, when my family and I visited Claremont, Drs. Jack and Diane Schuster held a reception for us. David and Catharine came to visit us. We really enjoyed meeting them after so many years.
My condolences to his family and friends.
Shuming Zhao, Professor and Dean, School of Business, Nanjing University, People's Republic of China
David Alexander was an accomplished scholar, administrator and host. I remember attending my first faculty meeting in the fall of 1985 and being amazed at the good humor and camaraderie that permeated the always packed room in Mason Hall. He knew how to set the tone--one of openness and respectfulness--without interfering with the discussions that ensued. He was a gracious and witty host at the innumerable receptions in his back yard, which often extended well beyond the advertised closing time. That he cared deeply about the college—its faculty, staff, students, buildings, reputation—was apparent in everything he did. He helped me understand the value of a liberal arts education and of contributing fully to the life of the college. I will miss his presence on campus and the brief, but always enjoyable, conversations in which we often engaged.
Frances K. Pohl, Dr. Mary Ann Vanderzyl Reynolds '56 Professor of Humanities and Professor of Art History
Though it may seem redundant to add to the many and splendidly accurate tributes already posted in memory of David Alexander, I am moved to offer a few general and inadequate words inspired in large part from the time I served as his Dean of the College in 1970-1975. Along with his quick wit, David's brilliance was shown in his wide-ranging knowledge of, among other things, music, art, history, and religion. He was a genuine and always stimulating intellectual, which made all the more remarkable his very practical grasp of college finances, and, in his long service to TIAA, the economics of retirement. Perhaps only because of his fascinating conversational skills, I have thought that sometimes people insufficiently appreciated the degree to which he cared about individual students and individual faculty members, the consistency of his respect for tradition, and how deep were his convictions about the proper mission of higher education. His Commencement charges to each senior class were classics, and are a worthy legacy.
Lee McDonald '48, Emeritus Professor of Government
He makes me very proud to have been a Pomona College alum. I graduated before he was president but his accomplishments prove what makes Pomona a very special college. May his family be comforted by God and His grace in all things.
Jill South '65
David hired me as Pomona College's Registrar in 1985. I was young, a bit naive, but willing to learn. His belief in me enabled me to professionally grow and have opportunities I may not have otherwise had. I am grateful to him for his kindness, patience, wit, and commitment to open doors for young professionals who were beginning their careers in higher education. I too enjoyed spending time with Catharine, John, and Julia; Kitty had already moved from Claremont when I began my career path at Pomona College. Their warmth, acceptance and love will always be valued and remembered. My thoughts now turn to the family as they struggle with losing David, as do I. RIP David.
Monica L. Augustin, Pomona College's Registrar 1985-1994
I will remember David Alexander as a gentleman and scholar, perhaps the perfect college president who represented Pomona with grace and dignity. I was often awed by his ability to speak off the cuff so eloquently in public, his words flavored with a soft southern accent that made for easy listening. Add a charming wit, a fun sense of humor, and a ready smile, and you had David. Pomona College and its extended family of faculty and alumni will miss him. My condolences to Catharine and family.
Steve Pauley M.D. '62
Though I once had the knee-knocking experience of being questioned by Dr. Alexander as an applicant for the Rhodes Scholarship, my fondest memory of him is more personal.
I had been quite taken by the cheesecake offered at the beginning-of- the-school-year party held in the Alexander's backyard and found out it was from a personal recipe of the President's wife. One day I made a double batch of brandied pecan pie and decided to offer the Alexanders an exchange of the pie for Catharine's cheesecake recipe. I went to their front door about 7 p.m., and Dr. Alexander himself answered. He invited me in to his kitchen, where he was warming a can of soup up for his son, while quizzing him on his Latin lessons. Between stirring and quizzing, he talked to me about my life at Pomona. Two days later, I returned to my room and found a cleaned pie plate and the much-coveted cheesecake recipe awaiting me. The Alexanders took seriously the idea that Pomona College is a family, and I count myself lucky to have been a student during his tenure.
Susan Wyche '80
My deepest sympathies go out to Catharine and her family. I remember President Alexander fondly from the freshman mug passing at his home to our graduation. My relationship with the Alexanders grew after I graduated in 1985 and began to work for Planned Parenthood Los Angeles where Catharine served as a dedicated supporter and volunteer. Farwell to a warm and friendly man and a wonderful leader of Pomona College.
Ruthie Liberman '85
My mother, Dorothy Tigner, chaired the Claremont Travel Film Series Committee for 20 years. I have retained many of David Alexander's letters of appreciation for the Committee's fund raising efforts on behalf of Pomona College. Mom had been an invalid for two years prior to her death. Dad and I had expected that only a few neighbors and friends would be present at her graveside service. We were overwhelmed when David Alexander joined us and delivered a beautiful eulogy. He was truly a thoughtful and caring man.
Linda Tigner '64
It is with sorrow that I heard of David Alexander's passing. During my years at Pomona College (1970-74), he was a young, energetic and warm president, who was wonderful at making students feel special and welcome. He was a terrific steward of Pomona for his 22 years and he and Catharine epitomized the best of the College. He was a gracious scholar who was a model for his many students. My sympathy goes out to Catharine, his children and grandchildren.
Alison McDonald '74
My father, James Gerstley, thought the world of David Alexander. Dad worked with him to raise money for Pomona.
I only met Mr. and Mrs. Alexander, when my daughter, Debbie Pieper Fulmer, was a freshman at Pomona in 1989. I remember the garden party they gave for us parents; what gracious hosts.
I'm so sorry to hear of David Alexander's death. My condolences to his family and friends.
Anne Gerstley Pieper '62
The news of the passing of David Alexander gave me a sad pause the other day. Pomona College has been a great nurturing force with my family. Back in 1927, it produced two wonderful people, by the name of Lorbeer, who became the sponsors, mentors and guides to this great country for my mother and father. Pomona gave my parents the foundation to build their lives and our family. My personal association with Pomona began as a young boy being towed about the grounds of the campus at my parents' reunions and later as an actual student. E. Wilson Lyon presided over my four years on campus. I later became involved with the Alumni Association, working with Peter Stanley and David Oxtoby.
It was not until the early years of this millennium, on a Saturday afternoon at a Marston Quadrangle reunion, that I experienced the personal warmth and spirit of the Alexanders. For more than 80 years, the Matute family has shared a living experience with a president of the College. I am happy that I was able to share a bit of time with the Alexanders, and sad that it is now just a memory. Our thoughts are now with Catharine and her family.
Juan Matute '63
As a freshman student I happened into the circumstance of babysitting for Julia Alexander when her parents were out doing the work of a college president. I came to know the Alexanders as a family, not as the executives. They were warm, generous and inviting. I extend my sympathies to Catharine and Julia in this time of great loss.
Kathleen Garza '82
I was blessed to be a transfer student to Pomona college, attending from 1974-1977. During that time I had one personal interaction with David Alexander that was an absolute delight.
At Pomona I played French Horn in the orchestra. One evening, after practicing some very playful horn quartets, called fripperies, with three other friends, we decided to play them for the president. Our section leader, Joe Ognibene, knew that Dr. Alexander was also a horn player and thought he would enjoy our music.
We did play our quartet on the lawn in front of the president's house. He came out to enjoy our performance and then invited us in for a visit. It was then that I discovered that the president of my college and his wife were absolutely wonderful, personable, down-to-earth people. I have never forgotten their kindness and how honored I felt by it.
Linda H. Fearn '77
David Alexander moved me with his ideas and hopes for the College and for his clearly constant consideration of the big picture.
I will forever be grateful for the opportunity he offered me as a young Dean of Admissions, an experience which for 23 years brought me opportunities both professionally and to make lifetime friends and an extended family among faculty, staff, alumni and students.
President Alexander’s modesty was such that I learned over the years, most often from others, about the principled stands he had taken throughout his life both before and during his time at Pomona. He knew where he came from and held ideas in context. I continued to find through his example and in his mentorship a depth of character which I could only hope to emulate in my own work and life.
David Alexander was a great teacher, patient with my ways as a new, young colleague. He was quick to offer a gentle guiding hand and occasional nudge as I learned about my new commander-in-chief and about the culture, history and politics of the College when I began my work here. His teaching role never stopped, and was always valued, even well after he officially retired from his office and I was privileged to enjoy many times even since his retirement the advice of David Alexander as an elder statesman along with the enormous hospitality both Catharine and David always provided.
I strived never to waver from the instructions he gave me upon my hire when he charged me to make sure Pomona was mentioned in the same breath as the great American colleges, to add to the diversify of the College’s student body and to attract and enroll the best and the brightest whom Pomona faculty deserved to teach and whom Pomona students would fully enjoy in this residential college. His instruction remained my objective throughout and I never lost track of his accompanying, quiet admonition that goals should move and are never fully achieved but rather are meant as incentive to always move forward. Neither David nor Pomona had been content to live by “we’ve always done it this way” even when, or especially when things went well. His own life showed his was genuinely one of those “Daring Minds” we now move to celebrate and support as the College moves ahead.
I will miss my mentor and friend.
Bruce J. Poch, Vice President and Dean of Admissions, Pomona College
David Alexander was one of the most important people in my life, and I will miss him enormously. He hired me as Pomona's Vice President & Treasurer in 1989, thus beginning the most rewarding portion of my long career in financial management. I often told him and others that coming to Pomona was the best career decision I ever made, and he was the one who gave me the opportunity to make it. Even after he retired as President in 1991, he was always an inspiring, convivial figure in both my professional and personal life. Many were the visits he made to my office over the years, and he never failed to tell me something interesting or funny -- usually weaving both characteristics into the same story.
One of my favorite memories of David and Catharine occurred in 1997, when my husband John and I met them in Oxford on vacation. We had a delightful lunch together, and then (in the pouring rain), they took us on a tour of Oxford, pointing out, among many other sights, the building where David had lived when he was a Rhodes Scholar. I particularly remember his mentioning that the garden surrounding that building had no colorful flowers, but instead was made up of many, many shades of green from the various trees and bushes planted there. His observation made a significant impression on me, because the subtle color variation would probably have been lost on me otherwise. Now I always notice the many shades of green in large expanses of plants -- not least at the Huntington Library, where he also made such a difference -- and I also always try now to look for the subtle variations in other contexts as well.
David had a wonderful, lively, and creative mind that he put to so many good uses over the years. I'm very grateful that he was part of my life for the last 22 years -- and very glad that he knew how to enjoy life so much. My husband John also admired David enormously, and we both extend our sympathy to Catharine, his children and their families.
Carlene Miller, former vice president & treasurer, Pomona College
David and Catharine Alexander were true friends of mine for many years. When I assumed the Presidency of Pitzer College in 1970, David immediately reached out to me, a scared rookie President. He was most helpful to Pitzer and to me and Catharine and David became good friends. Our daughter Cathy and their daughter Julia walked to Sycamore School together. Later, after I had left Pitzer, David and I served together on the TIAA-CREF Boards and thus frequently saw both the Alexanders. For me, David exemplifies the kind of collegiality and mutual reinforcement which is the Claremont Colleges at their best.
Robert Atwell, former president, Pitzer College
David will be missed. In the pantheon of college presidents he stands tall. He would like the Greek reference with his honors in Greek and his authorship of the book "The Goddess Pomona." He spoke at the 55th reunion dinner of the Class of '53, and talked of his search for replicas of the Goddess Pomona around the world. He invited us to send photos of examples to add to his collection.
He cared deeply about the character of Pomona College, and worked tirelessly to achieve the highest standards in scholarship and community. He cared about the liberal arts and spoke eloquently and often of the need for a strong liberal arts program. He mixed serious commitments with humor and class.
Do you remember his performance at one of the college talent shows? He had always wanted to lead an orchestra, and this was his opportunity. His warmth permeated his work.
Thank you David for giving us your wisdom and dedication throughout your years as president and forever after.
Cathie Moon Brown '53
David did not only serve with distinction as president of Pomona, but he was also a consummate pedagogue. When I arrived at Pomona -- sure that I was a skilled writer -- my professors in the Religion department quickly ascertained that I was incorrect in my thinking. They insisted that I take expository writing from President Alexander -- much to my great benefit. I found that the class, while very rigorous, was fun and interesting. To date I use the skills that I learned from David almost daily. Many friends of mine throughout the years can attest to my statements of gratitude for what David taught me. He was a wonderful man, a terrific educator and a mensch. The world is poorer without him in it.
Kay (Hodges) Greenwald '80
David Alexander will always be remembered as a kind hearted, intelligent, visionary, who dedicated a substantial portion of his career to Pomona College. As a wide eyed southerner, I was awed at the prospect of meeting the president of the college in my freshman year. President Alexander quickly allayed my apprehensions and made me feel most welcome. The early 70’s were turbulent times, but he guided the college through that era with common sense and aplomb. I last saw President Alexander during a visit to Washington, D.C. in 2007. He was still as gracious as ever. His passing is truly a heartfelt loss...
Judge Kern A. Reese '74
David Alexander and I arrived at Pomona College the same year, in 1969. Those were turbulent years for college students: we were distressed about the war, racism, assassinations--what we considered the general poor judgement of our elders. And we had a keen eye on what was going on around college campuses to our north in California--the riots and demonstrations at Stanford and Berkeley and San Francisco State.
In our frustration and despair, we looked to our college president for reassurance and hope. That someone in charge could "get it." And he did. There was dialogue. There was observance and recognition of our concerns. Under David's guidance, Pomona maintained its promise of intellectual oasis, even during a such a tumultuous time.
He was wise, compassionate and clever. Reading over his accomplishments now, I am stunned at the impressive increase of the endowment during his tenure. But, as a college student, all I knew was that he was warm, and trustworthy, and that we all liked him very very much.
Cynthia Thiessen '73
I only recall meeting President Alexander once, at the Tribute Tea for incoming freshman in 1989, and he would leave office halfway through my studies at Pomona. However, my grandfather, James M. Gerstley, was a Pomona trustee during President Alexander's tenure and worked with him to help build Pomona's endowment and financial stability. I know my grandfather respected President Alexander greatly and, clearly, Pomona did well under President Alexander's guidance and leadership. I am very sorry to hear he suffered a long illness, and wish his family peace and healing in the days to come; my condolences to you all. And thank you for sharing him with us.
Debbie (Pieper) Fulmer '93
Have been reminiscing with friends today about just how decent a man Dr. A was. He always welcomed students to his home and tolerated shenanigans with good humor. I remember showing up at his doorstep to deliver him a bottle of cheap nasty S.C. fortified peach wine as a gag gift and tell him I was thankful for being the fourth generation in my family to receive financial aid from Pomona. He laughed, thanked me, and said he was going to put it in a decanter and serve it to the trustees (bet he didn't though).
Don Aplin '83
Goodbye, David Alexander, and thank you. You combined dignity, elegance and humor in the perfect proportions. You made being a serious scholar seem like fun. And you had a direct, lasting impact on my life.
Dennis Rodkin '83
President Alexander will live on in memory as the epitome of a gentleman and a scholar. Together with Mrs. Alexander, they welcomed students to their home with a warmth and grace that were a highlight of my years at Pomona.
Bonnie Byer Somers ‘74
It was an honor for me to attend Pomona under David Alexander. I am grateful for his vision that made room for me at such a great school. Thank you for the gift of a lifetime.
Margaret Shannon '83
Thank you, President Alexander, for tending the orchard. God Bless!
Martha G. Moore '79
As a student at Pomona I was probably not alone in wondering if the admissions office had made a mistake on my application. I wasn't a star student, and I was constantly blown away by the brilliance of my classmates and professors. But President Alexander (Dr. Dave, as we liked to call him privately) made me feel I was an indispensable member of the Pomona family. Somehow he learned my name and remembered my interests and activities -through all four years at Pomona and even beyond. My friends and I used to swear he had a full-time social secretary who kept files and perused guest lists for every event in order to brief Mr. and Mrs. Alexander on those who would be attending. But that was just the kind of man he was – someone who loved working with others, who gave whomever he was with his full attention and thought. That ability to make everyone he met feel important and appreciated was a rare and special gift. For me he personified Pomona College; we have lost someone who truly made a difference in our lives. My deepest condolences to Catharine and her family.
Charles Finn '85
We became friends with David, and with Catharine and their three children, early in David's tenure as President when we two were serving in leadership positions in the Alumni Association. Far beyond the professional relationship, we have been fortunate to count ourselves among his legion of good friends. Over the years since the early 70s, we had the opportunity to visit with him on many occasions and his wit and erudition made for many delightfully happy moments for us, most recently just this past May on campus.
David's service to the College and his accomplishments in building it into a national leader in liberal arts education stand as his fitting memorial, far beyond what we could express here.
Our lives were just two of the many, many that were enhanced by David's presence.
We'll miss him so, and our thoughts are with Catharine, Kitty, John, and Julia, and their families.
Peter and Sandy Briggs '64, '64
Like all those who have had the honor of serving as President of Pomona College, David Alexander left the College better and stronger than it was when he took office, but David did more--he took the College to another level as he guided it to the very top ranks of the country's liberal arts colleges. His vision was boundless and his ability to articulate and realize that vision matchless. On this sad day, Pomona College is able to reach for the stars with great confidence in our future because David shared his "added riches" with all of us for so long and so well.
Paul F. Eckstein '62
I am saddened by the news of David Alexander's departure in the other world. I remember well our conversations in French about his visits to Paris. One of his daughters even took one of my French classes when she was a high school student. I also used to notice his presence as well as Catharine's in our Pomona College's convocations after his retirement. May he rest in peace!
Monique Saigal, Professor of French