I received word this morning that Douglas J. Bennet ’59, P’87, ’94 , Wesleyan’s 15th president (1995-2007), passed away last night. From the moment I was interviewed on campus for the presidency, Doug was warm and welcoming, wise and full of love for the many facets of alma mater. He believed that Wesleyan gave him so much, and he gave back unstintingly with deep affection. His wife, Midge Bennet, has been kind and generous to Kari and me, and to Wesleyan, which she always embraced with open arms. Our condolences to Midge, Michael ’87, Holly ’94, James and the entire Bennet family — and to all of us in the Wesleyan family who were touched by this devoted leader, student and educator.
Doug served 12 years as president, retiring in 2007, and those were years of remarkable progress for Wesleyan. He oversaw the rejuvenation of the heart of the campus—from Memorial Chapel to Usdan University Center and Fayerweather—as well as the addition of the Freeman Athletic Center and the Film Studies Center. Doug’s accomplishments, however, went well beyond bricks and mortar.
He set an ambitious strategic direction for Wesleyan with two planning initiatives, the first of which became the basis for the $281 million Wesleyan Campaign—at that time the most successful campaign by far in the university’s history. Under his leadership, Wesleyan saw a 25 percent growth in applications for admission, a doubling of the endowment, and an invigorated relationship with Middletown. In improving this relationship, as in so many aspects of his work for Wesleyan, he could always count on the extraordinary efforts of his wife, Midge.
Doug’s presidency was the culmination of a truly distinguished career that included service as assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs under President Clinton, chief executive officer and president of National Public Radio, and head of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
When Doug announced his intention to retire as president, he spoke about the “Bennet family love affair with Wesleyan since 1929,” the year that his father enrolled as a first-year student. Doug never stopped showing his love for Wesleyan, and he, in turn, was a beloved member of the Wesleyan community. He will live on in our cherished memories and in Wesleyan history.