Tom Kessinger, a former Haverford College president

Tom Kessinger
Tom Kessinger
Posted: July 11, 2014

Tom Kessinger, 73, of Annapolis, Md., a former president of Haverford College who imbued campus life with his own Quaker roots and values, died Friday, July 4, at Anne Arundel Medical Center there.

The college announced his death on its website, saying Dr. Kessinger had fallen two weeks ago and injured his head while playing tennis.

Dr. Kessinger became the school's 11th president in 1988 and stayed until 1996. Under his tenure, Founders Hall and other buildings on the Main Line campus received renovation.

The student center, called Whitehead Campus Center, was built. And Dr. Kessinger successfully guided a $75 million fund-raising campaign, the largest such effort in college history.

"Tom Kessinger proved to be an excellent steward of Haverford's resources during his tenure," said G. Richard Wynn, the college's finance chief during Dr. Kessinger's tenure. "But his longer-lasting legacy was his determination that the college combine academic excellence with an emphasis on values education in a community setting."

A birthright Quaker, Dr. Kessinger was a much-loved figure on campus who lived his religious ideals through leadership that listened to all voices, the college said in a statement.

"Tommy K," as he was known to students, embodied the Quaker values of kindness, openness, personal growth, and commitment to social justice, wrote former student Alexandra Perina, Class of 1998, in an online guest book.

"Tom's leadership ushered Haverford into a new era, and I am grateful to have experienced it," wrote former student David Forman ('93).

Dr. Kessinger enrolled with the Haverford College Class of 1963 and began his life of service at age 20 with the Peace Corps in South Asia before returning to graduate in 1965, the college said.

His doctoral work at the University of Chicago was based on research into social and economic change, which he conducted in a village in India. After teaching South Asian history at the University of Virginia and University of Pennsylvania, he joined the Ford Foundation in 1976. He served 12 years and at various times was responsible for running the foundation's Indian and Indonesian offices.

During his Haverford years, Dr. Kessinger taught a popular course called "Politics and Culture of India." He promoted cooperation with Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore Colleges, and worked to "internationalize" the student body by seeking grants for new study initiatives in the social sciences in Africa.

He also expanded the Peace and Conflict Studies program - a Quaker tenet - and supported athletics at Haverford by cheering loudly at home games. He often stood and spoke Sunday mornings at Haverford Friends Meeting, near the college campus.

Dr. Kessinger, a North Jersey native, met his wife, Varyam, while training community workers with the Peace Corps in northern India. The two married there and returned to the United States to raise a family.

Dr. Kessinger left Haverford to be general manager of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in Geneva, Switzerland, and, after five years, rose to become general manager of the Aga Khan Foundation. He retired last year and moved to Annapolis.

Son Will said that his father, who played football as a young man, was very involved with his sons' school in Indonesia. The elder man served as chairman of the board, graduation speaker, and coach of the baseball and soccer teams.

"The other students used to tell us how lucky we were to have such a great dad," Will Kessinger said.

In addition to his wife and son, Dr. Kessinger is survived by another son, Colin; five grandchildren; and a sister.

Services are private.

Donations can be made to the Kessinger Family Fund for Community Service or the Kessinger Family Fund for Asian Performing Arts through Haverford College's website: Donors should include the name of the appropriate fund under Special Gift Instructions.


comments powered by Disqus