Campus community remembers former president Kenneth G. Ryder

Fac­ulty, admin­is­tra­tors, and family mem­bers remem­bered former North­eastern Uni­ver­sity Pres­i­dent Ken­neth G. Ryder as a trans­for­ma­tive leader, gifted speaker, and devoted father in a touching cel­e­bra­tion of his life on Thursday after­noon in the Curry Stu­dent Center Ballroom.

Some 200 people attended the remem­brance cer­e­mony, including Ryder’s infant grand­daughter, Grace, who was born just six weeks after he died in October at the age of 88. All three living North­eastern pres­i­dents spoke at the event.

“Ken Ryder was a true inno­vator,” said Joseph E. Aoun, pres­i­dent of North­eastern. “It is a priv­i­lege for me to con­tinue the legacy of this great giant.”

Ryder was named the fourth pres­i­dent of North­eastern in 1975 and spent some 40 years at the uni­ver­sity in both aca­d­emic and admin­is­tra­tive roles.

His 14-​​year tenure as pres­i­dent was marked by a dra­matic trans­for­ma­tion of both the university’s phys­ical campus and aca­d­emic programs. Over the course of his pres­i­dency, he launched the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence; cham­pi­oned the value of inter­na­tional experiential-​​education; pur­sued funding to build Snell Library; and turned the university’s asphalt-​​covered land­scape of brick build­ings into a campus of grassy quads and tree-​​lined walkways.

Speakers remem­bered Ryder as much for his tire­less work ethic as his dis­arming per­son­ality and col­lab­o­ra­tive spirit.

William Fowler, Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of His­tory, recalled the charm and grace with which Ryder addressed North­eastern fac­ulty and admin­is­tra­tors in his inau­gural address in October of 1975. Ryder’s remarks were par­tic­u­larly poignant, Fowler said, given that the fac­ulty was at odds with the admin­is­tra­tion and was on the verge of unionizing.

“I am per­son­ally con­vinced that the highest quality of aca­d­emic pro­grams can be achieved at North­eastern through the mech­a­nism of shared gov­er­nance in which fac­ulty and admin­is­tra­tors alike have a common admi­ra­tion for aca­d­emic excel­lence,” Fowler quoted Ryder as having said.

“He was an ele­gant and pol­ished speaker,” Fowler added. “He became our ambas­sador to the city and to the world.”

Members of the Ryder family pose with distinguished attendees of the memorial service for the former Northeastern president. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

Chan­cellor Jack Curry’s rela­tion­ship with Ryder dates back to 1952, when he was a stu­dent in his Euro­pean His­tory class at the YMCA. Curry later suc­ceeded Ryder as the university’s fifth pres­i­dent and char­ac­ter­ized his former pro­fessor and mentor as an inspi­ra­tional teacher and careful listener.

“Ken had a dis­arming charm that allowed people to draw close to him and trust him,” Curry said. “Anyone who spoke with him left knowing his or her case had been heard.”

Of Ryder’s effort to build the $35 mil­lion, 240,000-square-foot Snell Library, Curry said, “No other North­eastern pres­i­dent had built a building like Snell. Our rep­u­ta­tion soared in a very brief period of time.”

Pres­i­dent Emer­itus Richard Free­land cred­ited Ryder with trans­forming North­eastern into a global insti­tu­tion, pointing to the trip of 25 North­eastern del­e­gates to the People’s Republic of China in the spring of 1980.

“Ken brought the North­eastern name to stu­dents and leaders around the world,” Free­land said. “He was a true Husky to his bones,” he added.

Ryder’s son, Bruce, painted a more whim­sical pic­ture of his dad, one which included off­beat punch lines, puppet shows, and family vaca­tions to Cape Cod.

“Out­side of North­eastern, my dad was devoted to his family and delighted in our accom­plish­ments,” his son said. “He lived his life with pur­pose, dig­nity, and grace.”