BRISTOL, R.I. (WPRI) — The Roger Williams University community is mourning the loss of President Donald J. Farish.
A university spokesperson confirms Farish passed away Thursday after a “sudden and serious illness.” He was 75.
The school released a statement on its website, saying “As our 10th president, he truly transformed this University, leading us forward in community engagement, college affordability and equity. Along the way, he demonstrated a genuine love for students and a steadfast belief in the power of higher education to transform lives. More than that, he was a thoughtful, wise and caring friend who we will miss greatly.”
Funeral arrangements are still being made, according to the university. In the meantime, a quiet time for reflection will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday at the Mary Tefft White Cultural Center inside the Bristol campus’s library, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday in room 213 of the School of Continuing Studies at the Providence campus.
The university said Rev. Nancy Hamlin Soukup, Director of Counseling Christopher Bailey, and other counselors will be available at Mary Tefft White from 9 a.m. to noon on Friday.
Farish was planning to retire next June after eight years as president. During his tenure, the school said it doubled the size of its presence in downtown Providence, provided students with a tuition guarantee for four-year, full-time studies through the Affordable Excellence program, hired its first-ever chief diversity officer in an effort to be more inclusive, and strengthened its relationship with the community through the Community Partnerships Center.
“Don Farish capped a distinguished career of service in higher education with his transformative presidency at Roger Williams University,” RWU Board of Trustees Chairman Richard L. Bready said. “His strong sense of ethics, vision and steady leadership have improved the University in virtually every respect and heightened its national reputation.”
“Don Farish will be honored beyond the campus for his clear-eyed understanding of the challenges faced by higher education and his bold proposals to meet them,” RWU Provost Andrew Workman said. “At the University, he will be remembered for his eloquence, intelligence, wit and for his deep concern for our students.”
“Don Farish was an extraordinary leader for Roger Williams University,” RWU Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Jerome Williams said. “He not only had great vision for the University but great vision for higher education in general. His efforts to expand experiential learning while freezing tuition for our students was innovative and moved the University forward. He did this with exceptional leadership, transparency and a respect for everyone. He will be greatly missed.”
Farish is survived by his wife, Maia.
Students tell Eyewitness News Farish had a big heart and was always easily accessible.
“He wanted to make sure every person was able to achieve and get everything they could,” Student Mikaela Kosoff said. “And make sure everyone could come to the university, even if they weren’t fortunate enough.”
Kayla Ebner writes for the student newspaper at the university, and said he would rarely turn down an interview.
“He would always be there,” Ebner said. “If he was in his office, he was always willing to talk. He was kinda gearing up for his final year at Roger Williams, so this was very surprising for us.”
“He would speak with members of the student media whenever we needed. He made us feel as if we mattered at a time when journalism is under attack.” Students at @myrwu react to sudden passing of President Donald Farish — https://t.co/b2SlD8qfBC @wpri12 pic.twitter.com/MJiXrIGU9e— Caroline Goggin (@CarolineGoggin) July 6, 2018
Students also say whoever takes Farish’s place as president will have big shoes to fill.
“He would always be the first person to say hello when walking around campus. He would always have a big smile on his face,” Kosoff said.
“I think they have some big shoes to fill,” Ebner added. “But I’m sure this entire year will be commemorating him. He’s left a lot behind, so, he’s left a great legacy for sure.”
Congressman David Cicilline was good friends with Farish and said Rhode Island has lost “one of its great education and civic leaders.”
“Since President Farish took over in 2011, Roger Williams University has grown by leaps and bounds,” Cicilline said in a statement. “Most recently, I was especially proud of President Farish’s work to double the size of the school’s footprint in Downtown Providence. I always looked forward to hearing from him about the progress they were making injecting new life into our Capital City.”
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said Farish was a “wonderful, wise champion for higher education,” and will be greatly missed.
“President Farish embodied the ideals that Roger Williams set forth for Rhode Island, and Roger Williams University thrived under his thoughtful leadership,” Whitehouse said. “My heart goes out to Dr. Farish’s family and the countless members of the Roger Williams University community whose lives he changed for the better.”
Cards and expressions of sympathy can be the University Residence, 45 Ferry Road, Bristol, R.I. 02809. Those wishing to share condolences and memories of Farish are encouraged to do so on the school’s Facebook page.