April 17, 1997
University Gazette


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  David McCord, Fundraiser, Poet, Dies at 99

David Thompson Watson McCord '21, AM '22, LHD '56 (hon.), a prolific poet and legendary Harvard fundraiser, died last Sunday at age 99.

He was noted for his creative, rhythmic, and often whimsical poems.

"He saw things in a way few people do," said longtime friend Cynthia W. Rossano, an editor and writer. To accommodate his words, he invented a new style, "symmetrics," a five-line verse form attributed to him by the American Heritage Dictionary. He wrote more than 500 poems and was the author or editor of more than 50 books, including What Cheer, One At A Time, An Acre for Education, and About Boston.

As executive director for 38 years of the Harvard College Fund, McCord helped raise millions of dollars.

"He always referred to the Fund as a web of friendships," said Fund Executive Director Richard B. Boardman. "He recognized the loyalty that Harvard men and women feel toward their College, and he recognized what contributing regularly does -- not just for the College but also to strengthen those bonds."

McCord brought extraordinary grace and style to fundraising, friends and colleagues said.

"It began with his love for the University, which penetrated everything he did, and poured out through everything he wrote," said John A. Dromey, GSAS '40, who worked with McCord. "He just loved Harvard."

McCord said he didn't plan to do fundraising, it just evolved, according to Bayley F. Mason '51, MPA '89. "But he said it was an opportunity to do what he wanted for Harvard and get paid for it," Mason added.

McCord received honorary degrees from 22 universities. In 1956, he was awarded Harvard's first honorary doctorate of humane letters.

Among his many writing awards were a National Institute of Arts and Letters grant in 1961; and in 1977, the first national award for Excellence in Poetry for Children from the National Council of Teachers of English. He was also a Rudyard Kipling Fellow at Marlboro College in Vermont, a Benjamin Franklin Fellow at the Royal Society of Arts in London, and a Guggenheim Fellow.

At Harvard, he was honorary curator of the Farnsworth Room and the George Edward Woodberry Poetry Room in the Harvard College Library, a member of the senior common room at Lowell House, a life associate of Dudley House, a member of the Overseers' Visiting Committee for Astronomy, and an honorary associate of the Signet Society.

McCord was born in New York and spent his early childhood in New Jersey before his family moved to Oregon. He spent most of his childhood in the countryside outside of Portland. It was there McCord said he developed a love of words and a fine sense of rhythm from reading aloud the Bible to his elderly grandmother.

He entered Harvard with the intention of becoming a physicist and concentrated in physics. His love of physics and astronomy stayed with him and found its way into many of his poems.

As World War I wound down, he served briefly in the military. In 1922, he became associate editor of the Harvard Alumni Bulletin, now the Harvard Magazine. He was editor of that publication from 1940 to 1946.

In 1925, he brought his abundant writing talents to the Fund. Often working late at night, he wrote personal letters to individual alumni at a rate of some 500,000 words a year, and dispatched open letters such as "The Alewives Are Running," regarded as a classic in fundraising circles. "His literary style was so great that it attracted all sorts of people," said James A. Rousmaniere '40, LLB '43, who succeeded him as director of the Fund.

McCord, an avid fly fisherman, coined the phrase "fishing with a barbless hook" to characterize his preferred fundraising style -- to him the goal was not just raising money but also making friends. He did both with his sense of humor and regard for others as he worked with agents representing classes spanning more than a century.

He created the annual Marion L. Anderson Prize in honor of his veteran assistant to recognize the accomplishments of Harvard fundraising staff members. The David T. W. McCord '21 Award was established in his name to honor longtime achievement in service to the Fund.

On McCord's retirement in 1963, President Nathan M. Pusey '28, AM '32, PhD '37, LLD '72 (hon.) said, "He has set new standards in fundraising through the quality of his letters, his personal concern for people, and his ability to make -- and keep -- friends for Harvard, both alumni and non-alumni."

After leaving the Fund, McCord devoted his time to writing verse and essays, and taught advanced writing courses at Harvard. In later years, he visited dozens of schools in eastern Massachusetts where he recited his poems and engaged fourth and fifth graders in the process of writing poetry.


Copyright 1998 President and Fellows of Harvard College