My friend Dick Spangler died this week. He was a great supporter of Harvard and a very good friend to me. I feel his loss in a profound way.
I met Dick when he was a member of Harvard’s Board of Overseers and I became President. In a group of distinguished people, Dick was a towering figure. He contributed more to Harvard than anyone else; he had more experience as a higher education leader than anyone else; he worked harder than anyone else reaching out often to people a third of his age. He was wise, pithy and clear in all his statements.
Dick was a very good friend to me. During my time as Harvard president he taught me much about treating people right, about fundraising, about setting priorities and about leadership. I’d have been better off if I had followed more of his advice.
Knowing Dick, I was not surprised to learn from his obituary that he had been a hero for civil rights, civility and public schooling in North Carolina. He was a business leader who understood (as many do not) business’ dependence on the broader society.
In the last long decade I saw Dick only every couple of years. He would drop by my office when he was visiting Harvard. He would always insist on waiting while I finished up a conversation with a stray sophomore. Then we would talk about Harvard, politics and family. As I became more involved in the business world, he gave me some of the best advice I have ever received.
Dick Spangler may be gone but his influence will endure through the many people he made better. I am proud to have been his friend.