College bids farewell to President Higdon with fitting tribute

President Higdon talks with students at a recent event in his honor.
President Higdon talks with students at a recent event in his honor.

Senior Michael LeDuc remembers meeting Connecticut College President Leo I. Higdon Jr. at cross country practice early in his freshman year. The president was wearing running shoes, LeDuc remembers, and he told the student-athletes he had high expectations for their success.

LeDuc took the message to heart: He won the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championship in November.

Speaking at an event honoring Higdon Dec. 11, LeDuc credited the president, who will retire at the end of the month after seven and a half years in office, with creating an environment where all students – athletes and non-athletes alike – can thrive.

During the event, Board of Trustees Chair Pamela D. Zilly ’75 dedicated the College’s fitness center to Higdon and his wife Ann. The newly named Ann and Lee Higdon Fitness Center, which opened in 2009 and tripled the College’s exercise and wellness space, was funded entirely through gifts to the College.

Zilly said the tribute was fitting for the Higdons, who enhanced the excellence and reputation of the College with great improvements to the facilities, including a new science center, new student social spaces and renovated student residences, classrooms and athletics facilities.

But Higdon’s legacy is much more than tangible buildings, Zilly said. He led the College’s largest ever campaign, bringing in $211 million, and he strengthened the student experience and the core academic program with initiatives that foster faculty-student interaction, enhanced faculty and student diversity and an increased emphasis on international perspective.

A recent article in New London’s newspaper, The Day, outlined Higdon’s many accomplishments – and his uncanny ability to remember students’ names.

“He always jokes with students and laughs, and people feel like they are able to approach him with questions. That created a great dynamic between students and the president,” Maura Hallisey ’13, a young alumni trustee, told The Day.

Higdon’s accessibility to students will be remembered as one of his greatest attributes as a leader of a small liberal arts college. He frequently visits classrooms, dining halls and residence halls to greet students and is a regular at athletics events and performances.

“It's as if he's not only the president but the mayor because he seems to know everybody in a very warm and personal way,” Trustee Emerita Sally Susman '84 told CC: Magazine, the College’s alumni magazine, earlier this fall.

Higdon’s last official day in office is Dec. 31. Katherine Bergeron, the dean of the college at Brown University, will become the College's 11th president on Jan. 1.

December 12, 2013