Praised as a true innovator, a beloved professor, and a devoted family man, Kenneth G. Ryder passed away in November at the age of 88. He was Northeastern’s fourth president, from 1975 to 1989.

Ryder began his career at Northeastern in 1949 as an instructor of history and government and was promoted to associate professor of history in 1956. Two years later, he was appointed dean of administration, and in 1971 became the university’s executive vice president.

In his 14-year tenure as president, Ryder oversaw a dramatic transformation of the university’s academic programs. He was ahead of the curve when he launched the College of Computer and Information Science, and he introduced the first co-op opportunity in China. He acquired the Graduate School of Nursing, established nearly two dozen academic centers and research institutes, and with programs such as the Excellence in Teaching Awards, envisioned Northeastern as a community of scholars.

The beautification of the campus was another top priority. Under his watch, Ryder transformed an asphalt-covered landscape into a campus of grassy quads and tree-lined walkways.
Two former Northeastern presidents—Richard Freeland (left) and Jack Curry (center)—joined President Joseph E. Aoun in honoring the accomplishments of past president Kenneth G. Ryder.

Perhaps his great accomplishment was the pursuit of a new library. Through his tireless efforts, he secured $13.5 million from the Department of Defense and $5 million from trustee and alumnus George Snell to design the $35 million, 240,000-square-foot Snell Library.

Ryder’s life was celebrated in a heartfelt tribute on January 31 of this year in the Curry Student Center Ballroom, where all three living Northeastern presidents—Chancellor Jack Curry, President Emeritus Richard Freeland, and President Joseph E. Aoun—took turns extolling Ryder’s accomplishments. William Fowler, Distinguished Professor of History, also spoke, and Ryder’s son Bruce painted a portrait of an intelligent and involved father who displayed a “wicked sense of humor, dropping a punch line when we least expected it.”

Above all, said Bruce, his father was a man “who lived his life with purpose, dignity, and grace.”