Dick’s relationship to his alma mater, Cornell University, is a familiar one: An extremely bright kid from a working-class family, he studied hard, made lots of sacrifices, weathered his parents’ pessimism, and scrambled for scholarships so he could attend a top-rated school and make a better life for himself. At college, he joined a fraternity, worked several jobs, ran cross country, participated in ROTC, met his wife, and graduated in 1963 with profound gratitude for the opportunities the Ithaca, New York, U.S., university afforded him. It’s this gratitude, and his motivation to pay it forward that propelled him to invest thousands of hours in volunteer work for Cornell.
Over five decades, Dick held just about every alumni leadership position, won service awards, raised millions of dollars from classmates, spearheaded several new organizations and traditions, and recruited countless others to give back. He even inspired his daughter to attend. He was the quintessential alumni volunteer leader.
But in 2015, Dick’s relationship with Cornell changed. He started exaggerating how much money he was leaving Cornell in his will. He stopped calling his classmates back. He dropped the ball on some projects. He behaved oddly at events. He even turned down an invitation to see the new university president speak.
It’s not that he was annoyed with his classmates, or that he was angry about some university decision. It’s that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and he just couldn’t move through life the same way anymore.
I know all this about Dick because he was my dad, and I had a front row seat to his decline both as his daughter and as a staff member in alumni relations at Cornell.