Robert Shenton, Ph.D. 62, who served as Secretary to the Corporation and the Board of Overseers from 1971 to 1991, died on Tuesday, Feb. 29, after suffering injuries in a fall while vacationing with his wife in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was 75.
Shentons career as a Harvard administrator spanned more than 30 years. He was named Registrar of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) in 1965, and served as Secretary of the FAS from 1967-69. Shenton also served as administrator for the Corporations University presidential searches in 1970-71 and 1990-91, resulting in the selections of President Emeritus Derek Bok and current President Neil L. Rudenstine. Shenton retired in 1991.
“Bob Shenton was for decades an extraordinarily effective and greatly admired member of the Harvard community, both a consummate professional and a warm and generous human being,” said Rudenstine. “His sudden passing is a terrible shock to his many friends and colleagues throughout the University, and our deepest sympathies are with his family at this very difficult time.”
In 1998, Shenton was awarded a Harvard Medal for extraordinary service by the Harvard Alumni Association. In receiving the honor, he was recognized for his “legendary administrative abilities” in managing “complex University affairs with admirable skill and great sensitivity.” The award was an unanticipated honor, according to Shentons wife, Betsy, a former assistant to the director of the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe. “I cant tell you how much that pleased him,” Betsy Shenton said. “He always considered himself a civil servant who worked behind the scenes, and to be recognized in such a way thrilled him.”
President Emeritus Derek Bok recalled Shenton as “an invaluable member of the administration . . . I cant think of anyone who was more loyal, conscientious, careful, and accurate in what he did than Bob . . . and those were very important qualities in the position he was in.” Bok said that Shenton handled a difficult job “beautifully . . . with enormous tact and discretion . . . He did his job as well as it could be done.”
Former Vice President and General Counsel Daniel Steiner worked closely with Shenton for many years. He praised his former colleague as someone who “cared deeply about the University . . . and had good values and a good understanding of an academic community.” Steiner says it was Shentons job to organize meetings, and facilitate communication between the Corporation and the Board of Overseers. “He was right in the center of the primary governance mechanism of Harvard . . . He was trustworthy and discreet . . . and was entrusted with many of the Universitys deepest secrets, and you knew they were very safe with Bob.”
When Shenton announced his retirement in 1991, former FAS dean and Corporation member Henry Rosovsky said, “Bob Shenton has been one of Harvard’s great civil servants: faithful, energetic, loyal, and always discreet. He has forgotten more about Harvard than most of us will ever know.”
Shenton first came to Harvard as a doctoral student almost 50 years ago. After receiving his A.B. from Stanford University in 1944, and his M.B.A. in 1951, Shenton studied at the Harvard Business School for two years before deciding to concentrate in history. He was awarded a Ph.D. in 1962.
Among his other accomplishments, Shenton served as a trustee of the public library in the town of Lincoln. He was also a trustee of the Boston Baroque Orchestra, and the recording secretary for the Massachusetts Historical Society.
Shenton leaves behind his wife of 43 years, Elizabeth, two sons, Timothy and Mark, and four grandchildren. There will be a private interment. A memorial service is scheduled for 3 p.m., Thursday, March 30 at the Memorial Church.