University of Rochester

Longtime University Official Roger Lathan Dies at 69

April 9, 2002

Roger D. Lathan, one of the University of Rochester's most loyal alumni and the chief steward of its development and alumni affairs operations for many years, died yesterday (April 8, 2002) after a long illness. He was 69.

Mr. Lathan, a 1954 graduate of the University, served under five of the University's nine presidents and was significantly involved in three of its major fund-raising campaigns.

In January, the University's trustees established an endowed scholarship fund for undergraduates in honor of Mr. Lathan and his wife, Joan, longtime residents of Pittsford. The creation of the scholarship "signifies the enormous respect and admiration that Roger has from the board and from me for his role in advancing the University over the past four decades," President Thomas H. Jackson said at the time.

Calling hours will be at the Anthony Funeral Chapel on Monroe Avenue from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, April 9, and from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, April 10. A mass of Christian burial will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday, April 11, at St. Louis Church in Pittsford. Burial will be at St. Patrick's Cemetery in Victor.

"Roger was a great vice president and a true friend-and I know that this is a sentiment that is shared by my predecessors as well," President Jackson said. "His unique ability to work so seamlessly with successive presidents, and countless administrators and faculty, suggests why he was also so effective with generations of alumni who admired, respected-and, yes, loved-Roger. In return, he loved them, and he loved his University. We have all benefited immeasurably from his gifts and his devotion."

"Not only did Roger serve the University for 42 years, but to countless alumni and friends he was the University," said Robert L. Sproull, who led the University as president from 1975 to 1984. "He had a consummate effectiveness in helping generous donors make educational programs flourish."

"Roger Lathan's most outstanding characteristic was loyalty," said Dennis O'Brien, president from 1984 to 1994. "In an era when griping, suspicion, mistrust and whatever toward every institution from government to the family has been commonplace, Roger was a beacon of loyalty. To family first, of course, but second only to that was his affection and enthusiasm for the University of Rochester.

"Whoever the president, whatever the school or department, no matter how difficult the times, Roger believed in the strength, goodness, and greatness of Rochester," President O'Brien added. "Presidents are supposed to inspire the community; Roger inspired presidents with his affection for his alma mater."

President O'Brien noted that in all of the calls that he and Mr. Lathan made on prospective donors, "what struck me was how glad everyone was to see him. Maybe not me, but certainly Roger. He was a friend first, last and always-then, of course, a fund-raiser."

"When it comes to finding money, few people do it better than Roger Lathan," said a 1984 Democrat and Chronicle article about fundraising in Rochester. The article quoted Mr. Lathan as saying, "There's nothing magical about raising money. We don't have some magic powder that we sprinkle on people to make them give. The only secret is hard work."

"Roger was a master of quiet persistence," said longtime fundraising colleague Charles Miersch, senior associate dean for corporate relations and institutional advancement at the William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration. "He never accepted 'no' as an answer. He always thought there would be another opportunity, so he never wrote anybody off."

"He often said he never thought he would have the opportunities that came to him-to travel to Europe or Asia, or to meet some of the nation's most powerful people," said another fellow fund-raiser, Jack Kreckel, associate vice president of development for trusts and estates. "He had never imagined he'd be able to do all of that, and for him it was a great gift."

Among the countless donors and prospects he befriended was Broadway luminary George Abbott, Class of '11, a legendary director of some of Broadway's greatest shows, including Pal Joey, the Pajama Game, and Damn Yankees. Abbott's photograph was prominent, along with others, in his office at the University.

A soccer player as an undergraduate-as well as a lifelong, dyed-in-the-wool Yellowjackets booster-Mr. Lathan was inducted in 2000 into the Athletics and Recreation Hall of Fame, along with his daughter Susan '85, '88 (master's), also a soccer player. During the recent renovation of the athletics complex, the Alexander Palestra lobby was named in his honor.

Women's soccer coach Terry Gurnett remembers that Mr. Lathan attended hundreds of women's soccer games over the years, as well as football and other events. "He must have written 100 letters for me over the years to help recruit new players-he was one of my recruiting mainstays."

As late as 1995, Mr. Lathan played in the University's annual alumni soccer game, where he scored the winning goal for his side-"what is now known around here as 'The Goal,' " Mr. Gurnett said.

Since 1997, Mr. Lathan had held the title of vice president emeritus and special assistant to the president and was also honorary life trustee. Although no longer working full time, he continued to come to his office at Wallis Hall and to make phone calls and visits on behalf of the University until shortly before his death.

A Rochester native, he served in the U.S. Army from 1954 to 1956 and then joined the Home Life Insurance Company of New York as a field underwriter. He was named assistant director of the University of Rochester Fund in 1960, becoming associate director of the Office of University Development in 1963 and director of that office in 1966.

In 1975, he served as campaign director for the $102 million Campaign for Rochester. He was promoted to assistant vice president for University relations in 1979, and to vice president for University relations in 1981. He became vice president and general secretary in 1987, with responsibility for trustee relations and assisting the president, playing a crucial supporting role in the $375 million Campaign for the '90s.

During his career, he served on a number of boards, including the Alliance Tool and Die Foundation, Botsford School for Dance, George Abbott Foundation, Genesee Valley Club, Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company (regional), Rochester Area Foundation (whose board he chaired), Rochester Rotary Club, United Way of Greater Rochester's Corporate Board, and University Club. He also was a member of the Committee on Educational Fund Raising of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).

Survivors include his wife, Joan McCormack Lathan, and five children: Michael and wife Mandy, John, Mary McGuire and husband Kevin, Susan, and Maureen, as well as five grandchildren.

A University memorial service will be held later.

Contributions in his memory may be made to the Rochester Rotary Charitable Foundation, The Discovery Fund of the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center at the University of Rochester, and the Roger and Joan Lathan Scholarship Fund.