Rhodes Community Mourns David Alexander

Rhodes House


July 25, 2010

The Rhodes community mourns the passing of Professor David Alexander CBE (Tennessee & Christ Church 1954) (18 October 1932 - 25 July 2010), US National Secretary to the Rhodes Trust from 1981 to 1998, following a long battle with cancer.  

David is survived by his wife of 54 years, Catharine, their three children, Kitty, John, and Julia, and their families. 

Whilst at Oxford, David Alexander completed a DPhil in Theology. An ordained Presbyterian minister and an Old Testament scholar, he taught at San Francisco Theological Seminary before serving as President of Rhodes College (formerly Southwestern at Memphis) from 1965 to 1969, and then as the seventh President of Pomona College in Claremont, California, from 1969 to 1991.  

Under David’s leadership, Pomona solidified its reputation as one of the leading liberal arts colleges in America and increased its endowment value more than tenfold. He has also served on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the American Council on Education, the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and Community Supported Television of Southern California.  David was a trustee of the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association (TIAA) from 1970 to 2002 and of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation from 1978 to 1999, and served on the Board of Overseers of the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens from 1991 to 2010, as a director of KCET and the Seaver Institute, and on the Fellows of the Society of Phi Beta Kappa. From 2004, he served as the President of the American Friends of the National Portrait Gallery, London. In 2006 David was elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

David Alexander is best known in the Rhodes community for his outstandingly generous and pivotal role as the American Secretary to the Rhodes Trust from 1981 to 1998.  He will be fondly remembered by many Scholars not only for his great contribution to the success of the Rhodes Scholarships in the USA, but also for his enthusiasm, benevolence, graciousness, and geniality.  

Amongst much else, David was instrumental in encouraging more women applicants for the Rhodes Scholarships, as well as ensuring broader diversity.  During his exceptional service, David worked tirelessly to organise the Rhodes selection process, overseeing the selection of 32 Rhodes Scholars in the United States each year, and was in correspondence with up to 800 institutions. 

David was also the author of the chapter on 'The American Scholarships' in Sir Anthony Kenny's edited volume, The History of the Rhodes Trust (Oxford University Press, 2001) and served as editor of The American Oxonian, the magazine of the Association of American Rhodes Scholars. In 1998, he was decorated Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) and in 2000 named a Distinguished Friend of Oxford University.

David was warmly supported in his work by his wife, Catharine, who took a keen interest in the mission of the American Secretary’s office and of the Rhodes Trust, having studied at Oxford herself in 1957.  When David retired in 1998, then-Warden Sir Anthony Kenny commented that ’the friendship of Catharine and David is one of the most valuable of all the privileges that goes with the Wardenship’.

The current Warden of Rhodes House, Dr Donald Markwell, who first met David Alexander in the 1980s, said how grateful he was to meet with him in Los Angeles in November 2009 and June this year. In June, David took part in lively and forward-looking discussion with the Warden and other Scholars on how to give best effect in this century to the ideals of the Rhodes Scholarships - a cause to which he was profoundly committed. 

The Warden said that he believed he spoke for the whole Rhodes community in expressing warm admiration and deep gratitude to David Alexander for his outstanding contribution to the Rhodes Scholarships, and in extending deepest sympathy to Catharine and the Alexander family.

The US National Secretary to the Rhodes Trust, Elliot Gerson, who succeeded David Alexander in that role in 1998, said: ‘We have all lost a wonderful friend. David enlivened every gathering of Rhodes Scholars with his smile, warmth and humour; he knew us all and never stopped caring for us all. We also have lost the leading historian of the American Scholarships, and I have lost my wisest advisor and counsellor regarding their administration. David loved the Rhodes Scholarships, and Oxford, like few others ever have.’

The President of the Association of American Rhodes Scholars, Steven A. Crown, who worked as Assistant to David Alexander early in his term as US National Secretary, said: 'David Alexander was a man of fierce loyalties. He reshaped conversations, causes and organizations to align with what he understood to be good and fair and right. Given the breadth of his intellect, the generosity of his heart, and the capaciousness of both, David’s friends could ask for none better. Nor could institutions like ours. The Association of American Rhodes Scholars will miss David’s quiet, genteel, deeply informed, kind but steel-edged, and above all, generously phrased but eminently reasonable counsel.  We have lost a loyal friend and a much-loved colleague. We join others across the global Rhodes community in expressing our deepest sympathy to Catharine and to David’s family in this difficult time.'

The details of services for David Alexander will be given here when confirmed.

From the Rhodes House website.