By Charles R. Longsworth, president emeritus
Hampshire College has lost one of its central founding figures with the passing of Dick Lyon, the first dean of the College.
Dick served as the dean from 1968 to 1972 and then as a senior member of the faculty until his retirement, in 1989.
In a letter to the Ford Foundation in March 1968, Franklin Patterson described recruiting Dick as follows: “After a long search, I was successful in finding an outstanding young scholar needed to lead the development of Hampshire’s program from within. He is Richard Colton Lyon, who was Director of the American Studies Program at Chapel Hill. Through a combination of circumstances too complex to relate here, Mr. Lyon—while an undergraduate major in philosophy at Texas—became a protégé of George Santayana, and consequently took a second baccalaureate degree at Cambridge after his initial degree at Texas. His Ph.D. degree was taken at the University of Minnesota in American studies.”
Dick and I were close colleagues and friends during our time together at Hampshire, and maintained a fairly steady correspondence thereafter.
Above all, Dick Lyon was the epitome of collegiality. He liked people, admired outstanding scholarship, and believed fervently in the ideas and ideals that spawned Hampshire.
Bob Birney, the first dean of the School of Social Science, described Dick as “thoughtful, patient, diligent, a planner, and devoted to the Hampshire model, tireless.”
Dick’s strength was not as a decisive leader or maker of quotable pronouncements; he actually decided very little. But he presided successfully over a rambunctious faculty, a bright and imaginative student body, and four school deans who were experienced, strong minded, and ambitious for their schools. In these roles, one of the original school deans said he admired Dick’s patience.
Hampshire was often chaotic and Dick was the calm in the storm.
As dean, he was described by one of the first school deans as being very good at recruiting faculty and judging well who would succeed in the Hampshire maelstrom. Probably the most renowned of those in whose appointment he played a major role was Jerome Liebling, a former University of Minnesota colleague and the founder of the Hampshire film and photography program.
Frank Smith, the first dean of the School of Humanities and Arts, in speaking of Dick and Santayana, said Dick described Santayana as the “non satis scire man.” He went on to say that Dick said Santayana once referred to the Harvard faculty as “a vast concourse of coral insects, each secreting a single cell and leaving the fossil remnant to enlarge the world,” and that Dick was determined that the Hampshire faculty would not be such a concourse. Frank described Dick as “dry, witty, and immensely humble. His directions to those of us he directed were always couched as suggestions.”
After retirement, Dick and his wife, Denny, and family moved to Austin, Dick returning to an intellectual environment he cherished. There he continued his scholarly interests and his devotion to Hampshire.
Hampshire College not only exists today but also thrives in no small measure by virtue of Dick Lyon’s leadership.