He Loved and Lived Well: Remembering My Father

By Richard L. McCormick
As published in the Fall 2006 issue of Rutgers Magazine

“None Shall Part Us,” their love song, was played at their wedding on August 25, 1945. And for the next 60 years, my father loved my mother, and she him, completely and unconditionally. It was his profoundest commitment and his deepest emotion. On the last day of his conscious life, January 15, 2006, the main thing on his now-receding mind was who would take care of Katheryne when he was gone.

His passion for scholarship was literally contagious, and his deeply researched, hard-won conclusions were unshakable. Before I came to Rutgers he had invented and taught a very popular course on the history of American politics. When I got here he was serving as dean of Rutgers College, and so for a year or two his course became my course. Then I went on leave as he stepped down as dean, and the course again became his. And then when I returned from leave, for two glorious years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the course became ours. As team teachers we intrigued our students with our father-son interpretational disparities, and we may have even exaggerated them a bit to keep the students’ attention. A whole lot of learning went on in that classroom. He was the better teacher, of course, but it was a shared experience we always cherished and frequently relived.

The last time my father saw a Rutgers classroom was on September 28, 2005, when he was a guest teacher in my current undergraduate course on the challenges facing higher education today. My lucky students got a history lesson that day as he drew upon both his research and his life to place the post–World War II transformation of colleges and universities in a Rutgers context. They’ll never forget it, and neither will I.

As his life drew near its end, we talked more than ever about Rutgers. He knew its history better than anyone ever did, or ever will, but he also knew its values and culture: why it has been so hard for Rutgers to become the state university of New Jersey and so hard to get it reasonably organized. No one has ever loved Rutgers more, but he was always a critical lover. And for me he was always a teacher, never more than in the last year of his life. I wish I’d learned more, but time ran out.

My father loved my sister and me, his three wonderful grandchildren, his house and boat at Cape Cod. But two loves surpassed all: One was Katheryne and the other was Rutgers. He chose well, he loved well, and he lived long and well. I speak as his son and for all of us in saying we celebrate the life he led, and we are in his debt, and we will always miss him.

The preceding is an excerpt from President McCormick’s remarks at a memorial service earlier this year for his father, longtime Rutgers professor Dr. Richard P. McCormick.