David Kearns '52 was a monumental figure in the history of our University, serving on our Board of Trustees for almost three decades, including eight years as board chair (1978–1985). He contributed enormously to our University while leading Xerox Corporation to great heights, and later initiating change from Washington to improve public schools.
David died this morning at age 80. The University flag will be lowered in his honor.
He will be remembered for his service to Xerox, where in 1977 he became president and chief operating officer, and in 1982 CEO. As a passionate champion of diversity in the workplace, David led Xerox to be the undisputed corporate leader in equal employment opportunities. His encouragement and development of minority and women business leaders was a model for excellence. Later, he served as chair of the National Urban League.
In recognition of his commitment to diversity and excellence, in 2002 the University established the David T. Kearns Center for Leadership and Diversity in Arts, Sciences and Engineering to expand the number of individuals who pursue undergraduate and graduate careers in the sciences and engineering.
David was the recipient of the Hutchison Medal in 1996, the highest honor for an alumnus/a. In 2008, he was given the Frederick Douglass Medal, awarded jointly by the University and our Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African-American Studies. That evening, people gathered for the inaugural Frederick Douglass Dinner, an important opportunity for the University and the Rochester community to participate in the stewardship of the Douglass legacy. The co-recipient with David was Walter Cooper, also an alumnus, retired Eastman Kodak research scientist, New York State regent emeritus, and one of the founding members of two Rochester civil rights groups.
David's spirit of support and generosity to the University has touched us all. In 2003, for example, he was the guest of honor at the annual Discovery Ball for the Wilmot Cancer Center. The event raised a record amount of almost $500,000 for research. David’s own battle with sinus cancer was courageous and he was never daunted.
On his 80th birthday last August, I joined with many others in recording a salute to David's accomplishments and his indomitable spirit. His health challenges never caused him to lose his sense of humor or good will.
David was as inspiring as any person I ever met, his attention always devoted to the dream that progress could be made. I am proud that he so valued our University.