Robert G. Stone Jr. ’45, LL.D. ’03, a pre-eminent and beloved figure in the Harvard community who served as trusted adviser and friend to three Harvard presidents as well as countless faculty, staff, and students for more than four decades, died on April 18. He was 83. The cause was complications following a stroke, according to the family.
Stone was a member of Harvard’s highest governing board, the President and Fellows of Harvard College, also known as the Harvard Corporation, for 27 years, from 1975 until 2002. He considered the University community his extended family, often saying that his experience on the Corporation was one of the “most rewarding” of his life.
During Stone’s tenure on the Corporation, he and fellow board members saw Harvard advance its standing as one of the world’s leading universities through increased emphasis on interdisciplinary research, international studies, and science and technology. Two capital campaigns helped to bring this about, including the record-setting $2.6 billion University Campaign, which was the largest in the history of higher education at the time and was co-chaired by Stone.
“I knew Bob all of my life,” said James R. Houghton ’58, M.B.A. ’62, Stone’s successor as Senior Fellow of the Harvard Corporation and the chairman of the board of Corning Inc. “One of my great joys was when I was asked to serve on the Harvard Corporation with him, because he was a great hero of mine. He was a loyal alumnus of Harvard who did the University proud.”
The Corporation of which Stone was a longtime member encouraged Harvard’s diverse array of academic units to work more collaboratively; the group also recognized the potential for expanding the University’s campus further into Allston, the area of Boston across the river from Cambridge. Several new academic efforts developed under the Corporation’s leadership during his service, including the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, and the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations, to name just a few.
“I valued Bob Stone enormously as a friend and wise adviser, as a son of Harvard who was unmatched in his service to the University and his devotion to our students, and as a leader whose passion lifted those he worked with to accomplishments greater than they had imagined possible,” said Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers. “Bob helped build the modern Harvard by motivating hundreds to share in his commitment to a greater good, and he did so with unusual clarity, genuine warmth, and deep wisdom. We will miss him profoundly, but the legacy he built will endure for generations to come.”
“Bob Stone was a man of strength, character, and permanent optimism,” said Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences William C. Kirby. “He understood this university, and its role in America and around the world, as few ever have. An activist alumnus, he was at home meeting with students here in the Yard, talking with faculty about their work, and engaging friends of Harvard from New York to Nanjing. He was, simply, a great man, and he will be sorely missed.”
“Bob Stone ranks among the three or four most influential people of the last 25 years in helping to shape Harvard’s constructive influence on the world,” said Harvard’s 300th Anniversary University Professor Emeritus Derek Bok. “I regard his passing as a great loss,” he said. Bok was Harvard’s president from 1971 to 1991 and will serve as the University’s interim president beginning July 1.
Widely admired and respected for his commitment to undergraduate financial aid, student athletics, and international studies, Stone established one of Harvard’s largest financial aid funds in the late 1970s in honor of his father, Robert G. Stone ’20. Since then, more than 200 students have benefited from his generosity.
According to Henry Rosovsky, former dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and former member of Harvard’s Corporation, Stone’s devotion to undergraduates was inspiring to all. “Everybody will mention Bob Stone’s great service on the Corporation or to Harvard in general, but I will always remember seeing him surrounded by undergraduates in the Faculty Club, where he frequently shared breakfast with them.”
President Emeritus Neil L. Rudenstine said, “Bob Stone’s loss will be felt profoundly by many, many people. He was a person of great warmth and affection, with a powerful intuitive mind that quickly grasped the complexities of virtually any situation. He was also enormously generous in spirit, and had a natural openness and magnetism that quickly drew others to him – usually to work energetically on Harvard’s behalf. No one labored harder – or more effectively – for the University. He was the Senior Fellow of the Corporation for most of my presidency, and we simply could not have succeeded in the University-wide campaign, or in many other ventures, without his commitment and strength of leadership.”
Stone graduated from Harvard College in 1947 following service in the U.S. Army in the Pacific Theater during World War II. He captained the heavyweight crew that set a world record for 2,000 meters in 1947. He sustained that interest throughout his life and served as the Honorary Chair of the Friends of Harvard and Radcliffe Rowing as well as a trustee of the National Rowing Foundation. He also endowed the Harvard heavyweight crew coach’s position to honor his coach Tom Bolles and current coach Harry Parker.
Stone’s professional and personal lives often intersected: He had a long career as a leading executive in the shipping industry, serving as president and chairman of States Marine Lines, and then as chairman of the Kirby Corp. He was also a renowned sailor who sailed all over the world and served as commodore of the New York Yacht Club and as chairman of the board of trustees of the Mystic Seaport Museum.
Always a leader filled with loyalty and passion for Harvard, Stone acted as “admiral” of Harvard’s fleet of alumni, encouraging hundreds of them to support the University over the years. He was the longtime chair of Harvard’s Committee on University Resources, campaign co-chair for two University campaigns, and a member of the board of directors of Harvard Management Company.
“Bob was Mr. Harvard,” said William H. Boardman Jr., associate vice president for Capital Giving. “No other alumnus or individual connected with Harvard ever raised more money on behalf of the University, and he was respected immensely because of the extraordinary example he set for others.”
Stone is survived by his wife of 58 years, Marion Rockefeller Stone of Greenwich, Conn.; six children, Helen S. FitzGerald of Greenwich, Conn., Catherine Stone of Marion, Mass., R. Gregg Stone III ’75, J.D. ’79 of Newton, Mass., Lucy S. Moore of Austin, Texas, Jennifer P. Stone ’80, M.D. ’86 of Belmont, Mass., and Timothy B. Stone of Marion, Mass.; his brothers Galen L. Stone ’43 of Westwood, Mass., David B. Stone ’50, M.B.A. ’52 of Boston, and Henry A. Stone ’58 of Harrisville, Mich.; and 15 grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held in the Memorial Church on May 4 at 2 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made either to the Robert G. Stone Flexible Financial Aid Fund at Harvard College or to Stone’s family foundation, Arcadia Charitable Trust, c/o North American Management Corp., Ten Post Office Square, Suite 1200, Boston, MA 02109.