We note with sadness the January 2 passing of Jean Keller Heard, widow of former Vanderbilt University Chancellor Alexander Heard and a great friend of the Jean and Alexander Heard Library system. She was 86. The Heard family moved to Nashville in 1963 when Alexander Heard was named chancellor. As “first lady” of Vanderbilt, Mrs. Heard was the hostess for many functions and an avid supporter of the Central Library. In 1974, Mrs. Heard founded the Friends of the Library, based on her experience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where her husband had served as dean of its graduate school prior to becoming Vanderbilt’s fifth chancellor.
“Recognizing that every great university requires a great library, she quietly yet forcefully created support from friends, alumni and faculty,” said Ann Cook Calhoun, a former Friends president and also a professor of English, emerita. When Chancellor Heard received emeritus status, then-Chancellor Joe B. Wyatt and the Board of Trust in 1984 named the library system The Jean and Alexander Heard Library.
“It was most fitting that Jean Heard’s name was included in the renaming of the library in 1984, for that action reflected the creative and vital personality of the one who was the main impetus for the establishment of the Friends of the Library,” former University Librarian Frank Grisham said. “She envisioned this effort as not only an opportunity to raise crucial funds for collections development, but a chance to increase the visibility and stature of the library in its community.” In 1998 the Friends honored Jean Heard with an endowed library fund in her name.
Mrs. Heard was a native of Andalusia, Ala., and graduated from the University of Alabama and the Juilliard School of Music. She married Alexander Heard in 1949. She was an accomplished violinist, civic leader, and education and social welfare reformer whose achievements extended far beyond the realm of the library. But we remember her best for her ongoing support of the library. “Books were an important part of Jean Heard’s life,” noted longtime university administrator John Poindexter. “She saw them not as collectors’ items but as tools for learning—for understanding the world around us and the world within. The Heard Library system had no greater champion or more powerful voice.”
A memorial service was held on January 8 in Benton Chapel.
photo credit: Vanderbilt University Special Collections