President Heffner

February 28th, 2013

Ray Heffner was a quiet man in turbulent times (“Remembering President Heffner,” Elms, January/February). Scholar of the Renaissance in an age of revolution, he was as unsuited for being a university president as our country was for civil and guerilla war in Vietnam. Both made their peace by leaving. In an era that crowned the personal as political, it is ironic that the most publically personal thing President Heffner did was to say he no longer enjoyed being president. He and I arrived on College Hill from Indiana as “freshmen.” Shy and measured, he was sickened by the confrontations of our time.

As reporter and chairman of the Brown Daily Herald, I was one who made life difficult for him. Despite opposing positions, we had a friendly relationship. We enjoyed walking to campus from Lloyd’s after lunch, often talking about Indiana. I sensed in him even then a quiet sadness. Now, learning of his death, the sadness is mine. Had we known each other across a seminar table rather than a reporter’s notebook, I suspect I would have seen more of what made Ray Heffner happy. O tempora, o mores.

Whether, as your article suggests, his undisputed reserve kept the campus calm is a good question. Equally crucial to peaceful change—including adopting the New Curriculum—that made Brown unique at the time must be the constructive values of student leaders supported by faculty mentors.

To your balanced remembrance of an honorable, out-of-season man I raise one objection. I teach at the institution Ray Heffner left to go to Brown, and it is Indiana University, not the University of Indiana. This correction is the kind of confrontation the English professor in Heffner and unregenerate journalist in me could agree on, and over which our late president would more happily preside.

Fritz Lieber ’70
Bloomington, Ind.


When I received the January/February BAM, I immediately went to the remembrance of President Heffner by Norman Boucher. I can’t share any unique insight into Ray Heffner, but I have some good memories.

As a member of the class of 1969, I knew Dr. Heffner as the president for the last three of my four years at Brown. During his first year, I was one of the sophomore class representatives in the Cammarian Club, and had a number of dealings with President Heffner. They were unfailingly constructive. My experience was that he was clear-headed, honest, straightforward, and likable. He listened to me and other students, and respected our opinions. The ever-present pipe seemed to symbolize his thoughtfulness.

I credit President Heffner and my classmate and friend, Ira Magaziner, with being largely responsible for steering Brown on a peaceable course during the turbulent late 1960s. As noted in Boucher’s article, while many other campuses erupted in disturbances and even violence, Brown remained relatively calm. I have always been proud of Brown for that. I personally never thought that the Brown administration was the problem or the enemy, and I credit President Heffner for that. I loved his honesty, as best represented by the retirement statement quoted in your article. I remember it so well from the day he announced he was leaving Brown, and it was good to see it again in print: “I have simply reached the conclusion I do not enjoy being a university president.” What more needed to be said?
One other thought: Ray Heffner was only forty-one when he was named president, and so left Brown at the young age of forty-four. For being such a tender age, he served Brown well, if not long.

Ron Haas ’69
DeWitt, Mich.



In the photo of President Heffner on page 9 of the January/February issue, you also identify Chancellor Tillinghast but fail to identify John Nicholas Brown on the lower right. Mr. Brown is a direct descendent of Nicholas Brown Sr., who, in 1764, with brothers John Brown and Moses Brown and others, chartered the “College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.” In 1804, he renamed the college Brown University after his son, Nicholas Brown Jr.

Nick Noyes ’59
Weston, Conn.

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Related Issue
March/April 2013