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Alexander Heard, fifth chancellor of Vanderbilt, dies

Posted by on Monday, November 23, 2009 in Around the Mall, Fall 2009.

Chancellor Alexander Heard signs the historic Peabody-Vanderbilt merger agreement in the spring of 1979.

Alexander Heard, an adviser to three U.S. presidents who, as Vanderbilt’s fifth chancellor, guided the university smoothly through the stormy period of the 1960s and 1970s without the unrest and violence that afflicted many college campuses, died July 24 at his home after a long illness. He was 92.

“For more than 40 years, Alex Heard was a powerful presence at Vanderbilt University,” Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos said. “Through his intellect and calm demeanor, he raised Vanderbilt’s stature on the national stage during his 20-year administration. And even after he stepped down as chancellor he graciously made himself available to his successors for advice and guidance. I was gratefully one of the beneficiaries of his wisdom, and his loss is one I feel deeply.”

Under Heard’s leadership, Vanderbilt grew and prospered, adding three schools to the seven it already contained, including Peabody College.

“The Peabody merger with Vanderbilt was a huge event for both institutions, with long-lasting repercussions,” Dean Camilla Benbow said. “Chancellor Heard was highly sensitive to Peabody’s position and to his credit, the merger paid off. Alexander Heard had the foresight to see what an asset Peabody might become, and he took care to preserve those areas of greatest strength. The results today seem obvious, although at the time they were far more of a gamble. In retrospect, we can all be grateful to him.”

Heard had been serving as dean of the graduate school at the University of North Carolina when Vanderbilt tapped him for its top job in 1963, succeeding Harvie Branscomb. A giant in the field of political science, Heard was the recipient of 27 honorary degrees from various colleges and universities over the years and published numerous books on the presidential election process.

Heard is survived by his wife, Jean Keller Heard, and four children: Stephen, a Nashville attorney; Christopher, an acknowledgements coordinator for Vanderbilt’s development office; Frank, a Florida businessman; and Cornelia Heard, Valere Blair Potter Professor of Violin at Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music; and two grandchildren: Alexander Michael Heard of Boca Raton, Fla., and George Alexander Meyer of Nashville.

A memorial service was held on July 29 in Benton Chapel on Vanderbilt’s campus. Donations may be made to the Alexander Heard Memorial Fund at Vanderbilt. By arrangement with the university, Heard’s ashes will be interred at Benton Chapel.


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