Presidency Scholar Neustadt Dies At 84

Richard E. Neustadt, an expert on the American presidency who advised five presidents and helped found Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government (KSG), died on Friday in England. He was 84.

Neustadt served many roles at Harvard—ranging from Dillon Professor of Government to director of the Institute of Politics—even as he was advising presidents from Johnson to Clinton.

“Richard Neustadt was a giant among presidential scholars in large part because he knew the Presidency from the inside having served ably a variety of presidents,” Roger B. Porter, IBM professor of government and business, wrote in an e-mail. “His advice was greatly enhanced by his ability to see the world from their perspective.”

Porter, who said that Neustadt had advised his doctoral dissertation, recalled the scene when the emeritus professor returned to give a lecture this fall in Porter’s Government 1540, “The American Presidency.”

“His lecture did not disappoint the overflow audience which arrived with great expectations,” Porter said. “The prolonged applause he received at the conclusion of the class was heartfelt.”

Neustadt’s book Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents, first published in 1960, is still read on college campuses nationwide.

Neustadt’s knowledge was an asset to those presidents whom he counseled, and his firsthand experiences with the occupants of the Oval Office made him a unique resource to the University.

His 2000 book Preparing to be President is an anthology of his memos to the U.S. leaders.

Friends said his influence on the modern American presidency is unparalleled, as was his effect on students.

“Dick was not only one of the founding fathers of the Kennedy School, he was also one of its most beloved members. Thousands of students have learned about presidential politics from his books and lectures,” Dean of the Kennedy School Joseph S. Nye wrote in an e-mail.

In 2002, Neustadt was awarded the Paul Peck Presidential Award for his studies on the American presidency.

Those close to him underlined not just Neustadt’s exceptional scholarship but his personal qualities.

“Not only was Dick a remarkable scholar with a tremendous influence on his students—scores of former students have rung up—but he was a marvellous father and grandfather, not just to his own grandchildren but also to mine,” said Neustadt’s wife, Shirley Williams, who is the leader of the Liberal Democrats in Britain’s House of Lords.

“He was very kind to me,” said Kenan Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield. “At the first departmental meeting after I got tenure, a question arose in which I turned out to be all by myself—not for the last time. After the meeting he came to me and said, ‘I felt for you because the same thing has happened to me.’”

Statements of condolence and appreciation were issued by Clinton, Robert Reich and University President Lawrence H. Summers, among others.

“Generations of students learned from him not only how politics works but also why its important,” said Reich, a former labor secretary who worked with Neustadt at the KSG.

One week before his death Neustadt fell, and friends said his health had deteriorated since then.

Neustadt’s relationship with Harvard began when he was awarded his Master’s degree in 1942 and was further cemented upon receipt of his Ph.D in 1951.

In 1965, Neustadt returned to Cambridge as a professor in the government department.