Pusey suceeded University President James B. Conant ’14 in 1953 and served until his retirement in 1971.
“He was a man of wisdom, faith, and quiet strength, and his purposeful passion for education left a strong imprint on the university he loved,” University President Lawrence H. Summers said yesterday.
Pusey’s lasting love for Harvard, where he first entered as a scholarship student from Council Bluffs, Iowa, in 1924, survived one of the most trying moments in the University’s history, the student takeover of University Hall in 1969.
In an interview with The Crimson last year, Pusey said that despite what he called the “time of troubles,” he looked back positively on his Harvard tenure.
“That was the best time to be a president almost in modern history,” he said. “I had a constructive and happy presidency there of quite a few years.”
Pusey came to Harvard from Council Bluffs, Iowa in 1924 and graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of arts in English and Comparative Literature in 1928. A resident of Stoughton Hall, Pusey played on the freshman basketball team and made headlines as the first and only Harvard-Yale “brain test” champion during his senior year.
He continued his passionate study of the classics, receiving a master of arts degree in Ancient History in 1932 and Ph.D. in Greek History in 1937.
After a teaching career at Scripps College and Wesleyan University, Pusey became president of Lawrence College in 1944.
There, he instituted a mandatory religion course and held monthly convocations with religious themes. He also created a “Freshman Studies” program—a mandatory course for first-year students at the college—designed to expose student to a diverse range of educational experiences, from Darwin to Dostoevsky.
His attention to undergraduates and impressive fundraising prowess made Pusey an ideal candidate in the eyes of Harvard’s presidential search committee, and he returned to Harvard in 1953 to assume the top post.
Despite his extensive Harvard history, shortly after he began his tenure, the New York Times Magazine described Pusey as a youthful and unassuming outsider.
“At 46 he is without a line of any kind on his face,” they wrote. “His modified crew cut exaggerates the impression of youthfulness though his hair is running to steel grey.”
Years later, observers noted Pusey still retained his ageless demeanor.
“His physical appearance did not change between when he came and when he left,”said Secretary of the Faculty John B. Fox Jr. ’59, who first encountered Harvard’s 24th President while attending high school with Pusey’s eldest son.
Behind his ageless face was a determined leader.