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Richard P. McCormick: 89, father of the Rutgers president

Historians in the News




NEW BRUNSWICK/PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Dr. Richard P. McCormick, one of the most accomplished and beloved scholars, educators, administrators and social activists in the 240-year history of Rutgers University, has died after an extended illness. He was 89.

Professor Emeritus McCormick, who first came to Rutgers as an undergraduate in 1934, served the university community and the state of New Jersey with distinction for more than 60 years as a professor of history, university historian, dean of Rutgers College and president of the New Jersey Historical Society. Dr. McCormick was an internationally recognized expert in New Jersey history and American political history and was instrumental in the establishment of several influential historical organizations, including the New Jersey Historical Commission, the New Jersey State Historical Records Advisory Board and the New Jersey Tercentenary Commission.

Historian Michael J. Birkner – author of “McCormick of Rutgers: Scholar, Teacher, Public Historian” – said in 2001: “You can’t read New Jersey history … without reading McCormick.” He also said Dr. McCormick was one of the “few people who I’ve met who speaks in perfect paragraphs. He’s a remarkably articulate man.”

“Richard P. McCormick was one of the luminaries of the Rutgers history department,” said longtime colleague Paul Clemens, associate chair of the history department. “I met him when I was first hired at Rutgers in 1974. He befriended me from the time I arrived. I drove out to see him only last week. We had an hour-long conversation, a wonderful conversation. I promised to come back. I didn’t think it would be so soon.”

Dr. McCormick passed away on Jan. 16, 2006, surrounded by members of his family, including his son, Rutgers University President Richard L. McCormick. In addition to his son, Dr. McCormick is survived by his wife of 60 years, Katheryne Levis McCormick; their daughter, Dorothy Boulia; three grandchildren, Christopher Kelly, Betsy McCormick and Michael McCormick; and his sister, Winifred Altwater.

Born Dec. 24, 1916, in Queens, N.Y., Richard Patrick McCormick graduated from Tenafly, N.J., High School in 1933. Dr. McCormick earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Rutgers College in 1938, where he was elected to membership in Phi Beta Kappa. Dr. McCormick went on to earn his master’s degree in history from Rutgers’ Graduate School-New Brunswick in 1940.

After studying for his doctoral degree at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. McCormick returned to Rutgers in 1945 and began teaching full time in the history department. He received his doctorate from Penn in 1948, the same year he was appointed Rutgers University Historian. Also that year, Dr. McCormick inaugurated a full-year course at Rutgers on New Jersey history.

During 1961-62, Dr. McCormick was a Fellow of Jesus College, the University of Cambridge. He also served as research adviser to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia and as a member of the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission.

A prolific writer of history, Dr. McCormick published nine books and more than 40 articles. His books included “New Jersey from Colony to State, 1609-1789”; “The Second American Party System: Party Formation in the Jacksonian Era”; and “The Presidential Game: The Origins of American Presidential Politics.” He was widely regarded as among the most influential historians of 18th- and 19th-century American politics.

Dr. McCormick also was the author of “Rutgers, a Bicentennial History,” which documents Rutgers’ growth from a Colonial-era college into one of the nation’s finest public universities. This work was awarded the biennial book prize from the American Association for State and Local History in 1968.

In addition to his scholarly achievements, Dr. McCormick served Rutgers in a number of prominent academic and administrative positions. He was chair of the history department from 1966 to 1969, chair of the Rutgers College Coeducation Committee in 1971 and dean of Rutgers College from 1974 to 1977.

In 1969, Dr. McCormick chaired a special faculty committee to address issues raised by African-American students at Rutgers in the wake of protests on the Newark, New Brunswick and Camden campuses. Among other initiatives, Dr. McCormick and fellow faculty members convinced their colleagues to contribute 1 percent of their salaries to create a special fund to assist at-risk students in the transition from high school to college. In recognition of these efforts, this past fall the Rutgers College Educational Opportunity Fund created the Richard P. McCormick Social Justice Award.

In 1974, Dr. McCormick was named a University Professor of History by the Rutgers Board of Governors.

Although he formally retired from teaching in 1982, Dr. McCormick continued to be an active and gracious member of the university community. “View from the Inside,” an interview with Dr. McCormick conducted by University Archivist Thomas J. Frusciano, appears in the current issue of Rutgers Magazine.

Dr. McCormick said in that interview: “Now, in 2006, we have one of the largest student bodies of any university in the country and are known for our diversity, as a place that reaches out to those in need, and for some of the best faculty and academic departments anywhere. What was once a sleepy little campus today educates people who will have an enormous impact in their communities, and on the state and nation.”

Upon his retirement from Rutgers, Dr. McCormick was awarded an honorary doctor of letters degree by the university, a rare distinction for a faculty member. In 1990, he was inducted into the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni.

The American Historical Association honored Dr. McCormick with the 2002 Award for Scholarly Distinction – the most prestigious award presented by the association – in recognition of his lifetime contribution to historical scholarship.

After living most of his adult life in Piscataway, Dr. McCormick moved with his wife Katheryne to Bridgewater in Somerset County in 2003.

A memorial service honoring Dr. McCormick’s life and accomplishments will take place in the Rutgers Kirkpatrick Chapel at 3 p.m. Thursday, March 9, 2006. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Rutgers University Libraries in memory of Dr. Richard P. McCormick, and sent to the Rutgers University Foundation, 7 College Ave., New Brunswick, N.J. 08901.

Established in 1766, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, is America’s eighth oldest institution of higher learning and one of the nation’s premier public research universities, serving more than 50,000 students on campuses in Camden, Newark and New Brunswick/Piscataway.

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