Faculty, administrators, and family members remembered former Northeastern University President Kenneth G. Ryder as a transformative leader, gifted speaker, and devoted father in a touching celebration of his life on Thursday afternoon in the Curry Student Center Ballroom.
Some 200 people attended the remembrance ceremony, including Ryder’s infant granddaughter, Grace, who was born just six weeks after he died in October at the age of 88. All three living Northeastern presidents spoke at the event.
“Ken Ryder was a true innovator,” said Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern. “It is a privilege for me to continue the legacy of this great giant.”
Ryder was named the fourth president of Northeastern in 1975 and spent some 40 years at the university in both academic and administrative roles.
His 14-year tenure as president was marked by a dramatic transformation of both the university’s physical campus and academic programs. Over the course of his presidency, he launched the College of Computer and Information Science; championed the value of international experiential-education; pursued funding to build Snell Library; and turned the university’s asphalt-covered landscape of brick buildings into a campus of grassy quads and tree-lined walkways.
Speakers remembered Ryder as much for his tireless work ethic as his disarming personality and collaborative spirit.
William Fowler, Distinguished Professor of History, recalled the charm and grace with which Ryder addressed Northeastern faculty and administrators in his inaugural address in October of 1975. Ryder’s remarks were particularly poignant, Fowler said, given that the faculty was at odds with the administration and was on the verge of unionizing.
“I am personally convinced that the highest quality of academic programs can be achieved at Northeastern through the mechanism of shared governance in which faculty and administrators alike have a common admiration for academic excellence,” Fowler quoted Ryder as having said.
“He was an elegant and polished speaker,” Fowler added. “He became our ambassador to the city and to the world.”
Chancellor Jack Curry’s relationship with Ryder dates back to 1952, when he was a student in his European history class at the YMCA. Curry later succeeded Ryder as the university’s fifth president and characterized his former professor and mentor as an inspirational teacher and careful listener.
“Ken had a disarming charm that allowed people to draw close to him and trust him,” Curry said. “Anyone who spoke with him left knowing his or her case had been heard.”
Of Ryder’s effort to build the $35 million, 240,000-square-foot Snell Library, Curry said, “No other Northeastern president had built a building like Snell. Our reputation soared in a very brief period of time.”
President Emeritus Richard Freeland credited Ryder with transforming Northeastern into a global institution, pointing to the trip of 25 Northeastern delegates to the People’s Republic of China in the spring of 1980.
“Ken brought the Northeastern name to students and leaders around the world,” Freeland said. “He was a true Husky to his bones,” he added.
Ryder’s son, Bruce, painted a more whimsical picture of his dad, one which included offbeat punch lines, puppet shows, and family vacations to Cape Cod.
“Outside of Northeastern, my dad was devoted to his family and delighted in our accomplishments,” his son said. “He lived his life with purpose, dignity, and grace.”