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December 19, 2023

Dear Pitzer Community,

I am writing to share the news that Pitzer College’s second president, Robert (Bob) H. Atwell, passed away on October 28 at the age of 92.

Bob served as the president of Pitzer from 1970 to 1978 and was instrumental in the growth and development of the College we know and love today. He left his position as the Chancellor for Administration at the University of Wisconsin, Madison to come to Pitzer at a critical time for the fledgling institution, and for the country. According to his family, one of the reasons Bob left Madison (and what undoubtedly drew him to Pitzer) was that he was viewed as overly sympathetic with the students who were protesting the Vietnam War and advocating for civil rights.

As a graduate of a residential liberal arts college (Wooster College in Ohio), where he served as student body president his senior year, Bob intimately understood the value of the student educational and co-curricular experience at Pitzer and the Claremont Colleges.

Immediately following his tenure at Pitzer, Bob went to work for the American Council of Education (ACE) in Washington, DC, where he ultimately served as the president for 12 years. Throughout his career he was a tireless advocate for higher education, building coalitions across public, private, religious and secular schools to promote better outcomes for students of all backgrounds. He was a nationally recognized and admired leader in higher education and received 17 honorary degrees.

On a personal level, I had the privilege of connecting with Bob earlier this year. He emailed to congratulate me on being appointed Pitzer’s seventh president, and we later spoke by phone. Our hour-plus long conversation ended with me having a much deeper understanding of our College’s history, and having gained a new friend and colleague.

His family shared that Bob “never missed an opportunity to advise the people he met on their educational journeys and took great pleasure in acting as a mentor to many throughout his career.” Several retired faculty and staff at Pitzer have expressed know how much he meant to them both personally and professionally. We are all indebted to him for his steadfast commitment to and leadership of Pitzer, especially in its early formative years.

The family will memorialize Bob in a private service in Sarasota, Florida, and a memorial service will be held next summer in Wisconsin. Please join me in fond remembrance of Bob.


Strom C. Thacker

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