This week marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Milton S. Eisenhower, an "educational statesman" in the words of famed historian Stephen E. Ambrose and a man once credited by former Homewood dean G. Wilson Shaffer as, quite simply, "the best president Hopkins ever had."
For most of today's students and faculty at Johns Hopkins, Milton S. Eisenhower is a library. (Or the "Milton" in the " Milton's Web" part of the Hopkins Internet site.)
Yet he was the only man to serve twice as the university's president--first from 1956 to 1967, and again for a 10-month period between 1971 and 1972--and he touched the lives of countless students in a remarkable, deeply personal way. He became a close friend to many undergraduates and remained so until his death in May 1985. He was a mentor whose influence endures.
"It was the greatest learning experience of my life to be able to sit down with him over a meal and discuss what was going on in the world and my life," says Clifford H. Turen, B.A. '79, who now is an attending orthopedic traumatologist at Hopkins Hospital and at the University of Maryland Hospital. "I miss him to this day.
"As important an individual as he was, he was very, very down-to-earth. He was easy to talk to, very personable--and for a gentleman of his years, he was incredibly enlightened about what the concerns were of students. To the undergraduates of my time, he was THE figure. This was DR. EISENHOWER. They looked at him with this awe and reverence. Once they got to know him, they loved him," says Turen, who was one of a half-dozen undergraduates who lived with Eisenhower during the last eight years of his life, receiving room and board in return for companionship.
Turen and many other alumni who knew Eisenhower recall a man of immense charm and multiple interests. They remember the fun of going to Orioles games with him and receiving a crash course in the detailed intricacies of baseball (and most other sports); they speak of a man who was a wide-ranging conversationalist, an avid gardener, accomplished watercolorist and insatiable reader. They cherish recollections of his sensitivity and interest in them--and chuckle over memories of his decisive, speedy driving and fondness for bourbon and backgammon.
Brooke E. White, B.A. '83 and now a lawyer in the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office, recalls "so many enjoyable aspects of his personality, from his impish grin when he spied his watch and announced that it was '5 o'clock, cocktail hour,' to his wise advice to attend law school regardless of my career aspirations because 'the faculty of critical thinking will serve you well in whatever work you choose.'
"Someone once asked me to name the one thing about Milton Eisenhower that impressed me the most about him," she continues. "It was a difficult task, for there was much to admire about the man. After some thought I answered, 'Notwithstanding all of his success, accomplishments and renown, he was never once less than a perfect gentleman to everyone he met.' That, in my judgment, is the true test of the character of a man."
Douglas Warren, B.A. '77 and now associate director, Development and Alumni Relations for Homewood, recalls talking with Eisenhower "about everything--sports, travel, politics."
"The conversation never flagged," he says. "And while we'd be sitting and chatting, all of a sudden Sen. [Charles McM] Mathias would telephone, and we'd realize that this man we'd play backgammon with was really a national and world figure."
Eisenhower's administrative accomplishments at Hopkins were extraordinary. Having previously served as president of Kansas State as well as Penn State, he arrived at Homewood in October 1956 to find a university in the doldrums and running a chronic deficit. In the next decade, he oversaw a doubling of the endowment, a tripling of the budget (with a surplus every fiscal year), an expansion of the faculty and a raising of faculty salaries to the fourth highest in the nation.
More than $76 million in buildings went up, including the Newton H. White Jr. Athletic Center, the present home of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington and the library that bears his name on the Homewood campus. Eisenhower also oversaw considerable expansion at the School of Medicine. Overall, during his first tenure, more than $100 million in private gifts was raised, doctoral production increased 40 percent, graduate enrollment doubled and undergraduate enrollment also grew.
When he was recalled from retirement in April 1971, he tackled a deficit that had grown to $4.2 million, slashed administrative bureaucracy, attacked waste and raised funds. Within 10 months, he raised $4 million from dozens of corporations and foundations, obtained $1 million from the state of Maryland and inspired alumni to contribute $1.2 million. He trimmed the deficit to $1.8 million in less than a year. On campus, they called it "the Second Coming."
Buildings, budgets and administrative decisions were only a part of Eisenhower's impact on Hopkins. He probably was the best friend the university's undergraduates ever had. He gave them his full attention and concern in ways none of his predecessors could have imagined.
Any student could drop by his office, and many visited his home. His wife, Helen, had died in 1954; his son, Milton Jr., and daughter, Ruth, had married and moved away; and so students became his extended family and, in some cases, his closest friends.
Part of their fascination with him stemmed from his incredible background and career. Born on Sept. 15, 1899, in Abilene, Kan., he was the last of the seven sons of David and Ida Eisenhower--and the youngest brother of the future U.S. general and president, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Milton Eisenhower was a living history text. As a teenage cub reporter in Abilene, he had interviewed William Jennings Bryan. He had heard Theodore Roosevelt address the Redpath Chatauqua. He had been an important official in the Agriculture Department, beginning with the Coolidge administration. He had fished with Herbert Hoover, joked over lunch with Franklin D. Roosevelt, dined with Winston Churchill. He could describe Charles de Gaulle as "the most arrogant man I ever met--except perhaps for Douglas Mac-Arthur." In nearly 50 years of government service, often as an unpaid adviser, he provided invaluable assistance to eight presidents of the United States, from Coolidge through Nixon. He was unquestionably the closest confidant of his brother during the Eisenhower administration, and he often chaired major presidential commissions, including the landmark Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, to which he was appointed by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 after the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.
In many ways, Eisenhower's boyhood seemed like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. He remembered the Abilene of his childhood as an isolated place that nonetheless had some kindly, insightful people who would help a bright young person reach the world beyond. He never forgot how important the assistance and encouragement of teachers and employers had been to him, and years later he would counsel in the same way many of the students he knew.
When he first arrived at Hopkins, Eisenhower found a quaint but chaotic degree-granting system in place. He was astonished to discover that the university had no specific requirements for a bachelor's degree. Undergraduate courses carried no itemized credits. Basically, a student got a degree when the faculty decided he had earned it.
Eisenhower appointed a faculty committee to establish regular credits for undergraduate courses. His proposals for a structured bachelor's degree program met with stiff faculty opposition, but with skillful lobbying by Shaffer, the objections were overcome.
When he returned from retirement in 1971, Eisenhower wanted to demonstrate that his commitment to undergraduates remained strong. He established the procedures by which Homewood graduates were appointed as "young trustees" to the board. (He also arranged for the appointment of a recent faculty member and a woman as trustees.) And although the university was deeply in debt, he used $1.5 million in contributions to begin planning the Glass Pavilion and an expansion of Levering Hall that would transform it into a student union building.
During his final years, plagued by a variety of illnesses but active almost to the end, he displayed remarkable fortitude in the way he "tidied up the personal aspects of his life when he knew he was dying," Doug Warren recalls. "He taught me a lot about the fragility of life and how to end it with dignity."
Many would agree with the suggestion of The Sun's education columnist, Mike Bowler, that Eisenhower might qualify as Maryland's "educator of the century." His impact on students was especially profound. Stephen Ambrose and his co-author, Richard Immerman, dedicated their 1983 biography of Eisenhower to the students of Kansas State, Penn State and Hopkins, declaring: "You are his legacy."