One morning last winter in the midst of the season's greatest snowfall, a lone figure trudged down Plympton St. and into The Crimson building. Placing his overstuffed briefcase in the downstairs office, the man turned up his collar and announced he would return after running several errands. An hour later, Robert Fuller Duncan '12 snatched up his beaten leather bag, climbed three flights of stairs and spent the rest of the morning in a tiny, cluttered office politely cajoling former Crimson editors into contributing money for a new press. The former Crimson president was 84 years old, but the undergraduates who worked with him could barely keep up. A week later, at a meeting between Duncan, Blair Clark '40 (the co-chairman of the fund drive with Duncan) and several undergraduate editors, Duncan was outlining his schemes for a dedication dinner. Suddenly, Clark interrupted: "Now Bob, slow down a little bit, we can't all think as fast as you can talk."
Duncan's loyalty to The Crimson and unbounded energy in his efforts for the organization were indicative of how he went about all of his affairs. Those who knew and worked with him describe Duncan in superlatives: "One of the greatest persons you'll ever know," "A man of extraordinary loyalty and devotion," "One of the most remarkable and energetic men I ever knew."
Duncan worked on fund-raising campaigns for Harvard for 65 years, including the $80 million fund drive in the 1940s and several other major and highly successful efforts. His contributions both to education and the field of philanthropy were immense and are readily recounted by those who attempt to carry on his work. President Bok, in a letter to Duncan's son, wrote this week that "As I look ahead at the vital necessity of maintaining private financial support of Harvard and other private institutions, I am tremendously grateful for the pioneering work done by your father in the fund-raising field and for the solid and basic fundamentals that he worked so hard to establish. This represents a contribution to the whole field of education which cannot be overestimated."
Although Duncan was a man of tremendous dedication and long work days, he also received satisfaction from his many recreation activities. At the age of 71, Duncan constructed a 36-foot schooner for his personal use. His "Cruising Guide to the New England Coast" has become a bible for the New England seafarer. As a member of the Appalachian Mountain Club, Duncan was an avid climber, listing Mt. Katahdin in Maine and Ben Nevis, the highest peak in Britain, among those he conquered when he had passed the age of 70.
Robert F. Duncan died with his boots on--his family and friends say he would have had it no other way. To the last he was hopeful about the future of a world in which he had seen much to despair about. He wrote in his fiftieth reunion report: "My continuing faith is based on what I see of the younger generation. I have faith that, despite the obstacles, they will make a better world." If we who are among that generation can go about our lives with the dedication and enthusiasm that Duncan showed his optimistic outlook may be fulfilled.