President Emeritus Phillip Raymond Shriver (1922-2011) died Saturday evening in Oxford at the age of 88. He was Miami University’s second-longest serving president and oversaw a remarkable period of growth for the university.
During his 16 years as president from 1965-1981, Miami opened campuses in Middletown, Hamilton and Luxembourg. Thirty new buildings were constructed and the Western College for Women was merged with Miami, adding another 12 buildings. Miami’s first 10 doctoral programs were introduced and enrollment was nearly doubled to approximately its current levels.
Shriver was born in Cleveland, Ohio, August 16, 1922 to Raymond Shriver and C. Ruth Smith Shriver. He graduated from Cleveland’s John Adams High School, graduated from Yale University in 1943, earned his Masters at Harvard University and his Doctorate from Columbia University.
He saw action as a junior officer aboard the destroyer U.S.S. Murray in the Pacific Theatre during World War II and was inducted into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame in 2009.
Shriver began his career as a teacher in 1946 at Kent State University, eventually becoming dean of the College of Arts and Sciences before becoming Miami’s 17th president in 1965 at the age of 42.
He authored or co-authored seven books and more than 200 articles. He served as Chairman of the Board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cincinnati, President of the Ohio Historical Society and the Ohio Academy of History. He was an active member of the Oxford Rotary Club and Presbyterian church, and had a lifelong association with the Delta Upsilon fraternity.
He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Martha Damaris Nye, their five children, Carolyn Shaul, Susan, Melinda Williams, Darcy and Raymond Scott II, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
The family plans to have a private burial and a public memorial service will be held at a later date.
‘His greatest joy was the classroom’
Shriver was a lifelong educator. He taught a class in each of his 52 years but one in higher education. Even during his 16 years as president of Miami, he taught courses on Miami and Ohio history.
“His greatest joy was the classroom. He was a teacher,” said his daughter, Darcy Shriver, class or 1975. “He loved students, and he was here for all of you, because you are Miami.”
Those who knew him say his abilities as a historian and a storyteller set him apart as a remarkable educator.
Robert Howard (d. 1998) wrote in 1997, for an event marking Shriver’s 50 years of teaching, “Many a time he has explained that continuing to teach at least one course each year has served to maintain communication with students and to preserve his feel for the classroom. The more nearly those two goals can be achieved … the more fully the entire campus is a classroom.”
Professor of history Curt Ellison, editor of Miami University: Bicentennial Perspectives said Shriver always placed great emphasis on understanding the classroom.
“He believed that administrators should be in the classroom,” Ellison said. “The deans he appointed would teach regularly.”
Before he took over the history of Miami course following Shriver’s retirement from teaching in 1998, Ellison sat in on one of Shriver’s classes.
“The room was filled, he drew people from all over the campus,” Ellison said. “On one occasion, Shriver read stories and aphorisms from the McGuffey Reader,” hardly edge-of-seat material. But Ellison said the class sat in rapt attention.
“You could hear a pin drop,” Ellison said.
“He was a storyteller with a talent or a genius for putting together a story that captured a distinctive identity for the campus and made you feel like you were a part of that legacy.”
Gregory Marrko, class of 1978, took Shriver’s Ohio history course, which met once a week for five hours when Marrko took it.
“He had this amazing ability to tell stories,” Marrko said. “He was so good that at the end of a very long lecture session, he would start one of his stories about five minutes before class was supposed to end, go on for 20, 30 minutes, but nobody would move. They hung on every word.”
Marrko said Shriver was down to earth as a teacher and tolerated the occasional practical joke. Once students had pizza delivered to class. Another night, students covered the map of Ohio Shriver would pull down at the beginning of every class with a Playboy centerfold. When Shriver pulled down the map that night, realizing what had happened, he blushed a deep red and immediately put the map away.
“Well, you certainly can’t say we haven’t covered Ohio well tonight!” he said.
Shriver began teaching Ohio history as a professor at Kent State and valued history education very highly.
Shriver was a preeminent scholar of Miami and Ohio history. William Pratt, emeritus professor of English, and editor of Miami University: A Personal History by Shriver, said Shriver could speak volumes about Miami and Ohio history without the need for notes.
“It was all in his head, any aspect of it,” Pratt said. “It was all there. He had a remarkable memory.”
Shriver saw Miami’s history as vital to its present, according to Ellison.
“He had a very active sense of Miami’s past and how it played a role in the present, and how it affected the decisions he made as the leader of the institution,” Ellison said.
Ellison said Shriver changed the very nature of teaching at Miami by encouraging a strong commitment to undergraduate research, interaction between faculty and students and specialized programming.
“He saw Miami as a family,” Ellison said. “A collegial extended family of students, their professors, the alumni, the administration of the university, and the thought of that had a vey positive influence on the quality of the school.”
John Dolibois, vice president for development and alumni affairs at Miami before becoming American ambassador to Luxembourg, for whom Miami’s center in Luxembourg is named, said Shriver’s teaching received royal praise from the future Grand Duke.
“We had a visit on campus in 1979 with his royal highness the Crown Prince (of Luxembourg) and I took him to one of Dr. Shriver’s classes,” Dolibois said. “He thought listening to Dr. Shriver’s lectures in that class was the highlight of his visit.”
With Shriver’s 52 years of teaching, he and his father, Raymond Shriver, together taught for over a century. In remarks to a 1997 event marking his 50th year of teaching, Shriver credited his father as an inspiration for his career.
“This evening really began 94 years ago, when a young 18-year-old by the name of Raymond Shriver began to teach in a one-room country school,” Shriver said. “In all he taught 49 years … he was a role model.”
‘A person of boundless goodwill’
Shriver was well known for his kindness, even temperament and remarkable ability to remember people.
Lloyd Goggin, vice president for finance and business affairs under Shriver and namesake of the Goggin Ice Arena, said Shriver “is one of the finest persons I have ever met.”
“He had a great way of working with people, asked a lot of questions and was very kind,” Goggin said. “He had a great ability to try to work through a problem with students and with all of us, for that matter.”
Shriver was known as a visible presence on campus, easily accessible to students.
“He was never the aloof kind who just stayed in his office. He was out on campus, seeing people, and he liked to spend a lot of time with faculty and students,” Pratt said. “He let himself be a target and many other presidents simply would not have endured it.”
Todd Bailey, class of
1973 and visiting professor of finance, said Shriver’s benevolent personality had a positive impact on the campus.
“Dr. Shriver was a person of boundless goodwill, he was just a positive force of nature,” Bailey said. “I’m sure he had his bad days, but I never saw them.”
Bailey served as Student Body Vice President in his junior year and as an assistant in Roudebush Hall his senior year.
Bailey credits his return to Miami to teach to Shriver’s influence.
“When you make that connection to what Shriver’s university contributes to today’s university, it’s not bricks and mortar, it’s not a new stadium, or the student center,” Bailey said. “It’s the spirit of what we do here. That’s what he built and what is sustained.”
One of Shriver’s most remarkable traits was his remarkable ability to remember people, according to Dolibois.
“He remembered names, he remembered incidents and especially if alumni were former students in his classes, he had that knack, that personal touch, that really established him in the hearts of a lot of people,” Dolibois said.
Randall Listerman, who taught at Miami for 34 years and wrote a book about the Shriver presidency, said Shriver’s abilities were nothing short of miraculous.
“It was an absolute gift, it was a miracle. It was absolutely stunning. He’d meet you once and never forget you,” Listerman said. “I don’t know how he did it.”
Shriver treated everyone he met with respect.
“He went across all spectrums, from the governor to the gardener and he treated everyone with the same respect and honor and courtesy,” Listerman said.
Current Miami President David Hodge said alumni have repeatedly told him about Shriver’s outstanding character.
“His basic humanity, his love for the university and for people, it made Miami more human, more personal,” Hodge said. “He had a wonderful supportive spirit.”
‘Phil Shriver saved the university’
Shriver’s presidency coincided with tumultuous times in higher education, including Miami. In Miami University: A Personal History, he wrote: “The spring of 1970 was the low point of student morale and the high point of student distress during the Vietnam War.”
The period of wartime tumult at Miami is remembered primarily for the student sit-in at Rowan Hall, which nearly turned violent, and a “flush-in” in which students turned on all the faucets, flushed all the toilets and turned on all the showers at precisely 6:00 p.m., draining Oxford’s water supply in 25 minutes.
Bailey credits Shriver and his administration with exceptional handling of student protest at Miami.
“At the core of his being, he understood that we as a community of students were well-intentioned in our objectives and our values, but we were at times misguided in our efforts,” Bailey said. “He also understood as a dedicated educator that we would learn more from our mistakes than we would from our successes.”
Doug Wilson, class of 1964 and later vice president of university relations, credited Shriver with preventing serious violence.
“I watched him play a tremendously important role in keeping things as quiet as they could possibly be under the circumstances,” Wilson said. “I have the feeling that the empathy and compassion that he had working with the students at Miami in that very difficult spring would’ve probably diffused the situation at Kent State University.”
The confrontation between students and the National Guard at Kent State escalated to the point where guardsmen fired on the protestors, killing four students.
Dolibois said Miami owes Shriver a debt of gratitude for avoiding a similar situation at Miami.
In Pattern of Circles, Dolibois wrote: “Phil Shriver saved the university. He endured abuse, stress, strain, and almost single-handedly reestablished a sense of unity on the campus. Miami University is deeply in debt to him.”
A Miami Man for life
After his retirement in 1998, Shriver continued to accept invitations to speak to various campus, alumni and community groups. Together with his wife Martha, he attended numerous athletic events and concerts.
Stephen Gordon, class of 1975 and curator of the McGuffey Museum, said Martha was a constant influence and presence during Shriver’s tenure as president and continued Miami involvement following his retirement.
“They were really a team. I would bet that Dr. Shriver has been to more Miami athletic events than any person,” Gordon said.
Martha was almost always with him.
“Mrs. Shriver is beloved by Miami students,” Gordon said. “She was always there – equally friendly, and equally loved by the Miami community.”
Shriver also kept up correspondence with many former students and colleagues. In 1997, Lisa Gilgen, class of 1988, wrote Shriver a letter congratulating him on 50 years of teaching. Gilgen’s father, William Martin, took Shriver’s Ohio history course at Kent State and Gilgen later took Shriver’s history of Miami course.
Gilgen wrote, “Maybe some of my professors will be around when my son, Connor, starts looking at universities to attend in 2013.”
Shriver replied a week later thanking Gilgen for her letter. He wrote that he remembered Gilgen’s father and that teaching both father and daughter made her family special to him. Shriver expressed pleasure that another generation of Gilgen’s family could be headed to Miami.
‘Uncle Phil’ loved that sort of thing.
“Regrettably,” Shriver wrote, “I shall not be teaching at that time, but there will be other instructors who will be able to claim both you and your son as students.”