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ArticlesWinter 2010

Library loses one of its foremost friends

Chancellor Alexander Heard is surrounded by books in this photograph taken at his Vanderbilt office.

Chancellor Alexander Heard is surrounded by books in this photograph taken at his Vanderbilt office.

When Chancellor Emeritus Alexander Heard passed away in July at age 92, the library lost one of its foremost friends.

The Jean and Alexander Heard Library, which bears both his name and that of his wife, benefited immensely during his tenure as chancellor through his fundraising and leadership efforts.

Jean Heard pitched in by founding the Friends of the Library fundraising organization and serving as its first president, often hosting board meetings in her home. The highest library donation level is aptly titled the Heard Library Society. The Heards were the focus of a large exhibit in Special Collections in the fall of 2009.

Heard retired in June 1982, and the decision to name the library in honor of the chancellor emeritus and his wife came about a year later.

“Jean and I are deeply grateful for the university’s generous and wholly unexpected action in naming the library,” he said at the time. “Every part of Vanderbilt is important, but we feel especially honored that a part of it that serves all the university faculty and students should bear our names.”

Heard, an adviser to three U.S. presidents, served as Vanderbilt’s fifth chancellor. He guided the university through the stormy period of the 1960s and 1970s without the unrest and violence that afflicted many college campuses.

“Alex Heard used to say that the library really is the heart of the university, and I believe that,” Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos said in 2008. “For Vanderbilt, with its strong tradition of discovery and research and its aspirations to continue to be a leader, it is essential that our library continue to be world-class.”

Vanderbilt Chancellor Alexander Heard, an adviser to three U.S. presidents, presents a report to President John F. Kennedy.

Vanderbilt Chancellor Alexander Heard, an adviser to three U.S. presidents, presents a report to President John F. Kennedy.

Frank Grisham served as the director of what was then called the Joint University Libraries and worked with Heard for 17 years. He said it was a rewarding experience.

“He was a modest and extremely intelligent man,” Grisham recalls. “Chancellor Heard knew the value of a library as a learning center—that’s the way he promoted it. The library was key to him. He was always an ardent and forceful supporter of the library.”

A student group of seven campus leaders that Heard admiringly named “The Wild Bunch” chose to honor the chancellor and his wife by creating an endowment in 1997 to purchase books for the Jean and Alexander Heard Library. Phil Walker, BA’77, was a member of the group and he elegantly summed up the chancellor’s powerful legacy.

“Chancellor Heard embodied everything for which Vanderbilt stands: Strength, courage, charm, civility, respect for all others regardless of their opinions, being the best, and an undying commitment to the freedom of ideas and discussion,” Walker said. “In many ways, Vanderbilt and Chancellor Heard became one. His spirit will live on each and every time a student or alum says to himself, ‘I am who I am because of Vanderbilt.’ In reality, all of us are who we are because of who Chancellor Heard was, and what that has let Vanderbilt become for each of us.”

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