In Memoriam: Larry N. Vanderhoef

In photos and a video, Chancellor Emeritus Larry N. Vanderhoef beamed once again at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts — a building that stands as one of his great legacies from 25 years of campus leadership. 


“I had frequent meetings with Larry when I was senate chair and nothing dominated our conversations more than the slow and steady erosion of the master plan (California Master Plan for Higher Education). Larry was an educator at his core committed to the undeniable link between education and quality of life and deeply proud of the accomplishments of our alumni.”

— Linda Bisson, professor of viticulture and enology (Maynard A. Amerine Endowed Chair); and former chair, Davis Divison of the Academic Senate (2006-08 and 2011-12)


 “He led the campus through the most difficult budget reductions in the ’90s, reinvigorated the relationship between the city of Davis and the campus, hired extraordinary faculty and senior staff, and with the Mondavi Center created a lasting legacy for UC Davis and the region. He was both principled and pragmatic, as well as politically astute. No one person has made a greater imprint on what we today know as a very special university, a gem in our region. But his greatest impact may have been on the tone he set for human interaction at the university and our public discourse. No matter who you were, an employee, student, academic colleague, elected official, international honoree, he treated one and all with respect and understanding. That is a legacy we will all need to work hard to continue.”

— Lois Wolk, state senator (and before that a member of the Assembly); and former Davis mayor and City Council member


“Working with Larry in an administrative position afforded me opportunities to see him make some difficult decisions. One characteristic that I believe contributed to his effectiveness as a leader was that he appreciated the ‘devil’s advocate’ approach in discussions. Even when he disagreed, he listened, and he made discussants feel that their comments were valued. I repeatedly saw this in his meetings with students, with faculty and with his administrative colleagues.”

— Barbara Horwitz, distinguished professor, Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior, and Department of Physiology and Membrane Biology; and former vice provost, Academic Affairs (2001-11), and interim provost and executive vice chancellor (2007-08)


“Larry Vanderhoef was many things over the course of his richly productive life — a pragmatic visionary, an academic diplomat, a tireless institution builder who devoted himself to realizing the potential of an extraordinary intellectual community. His legacy is reflected today in UC Davis’ status as one of the nation’s leading universities.

— Richard Atkinson, former UC president (1995-2003) and UC San Diego chancellor (1980-95)


 “My wife and I will never forget the Saturday morning 10 years ago when the chancellor and his wife, Rosalie, who must have had very few Saturdays to themselves, drove to the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento to visit our infant son, Mick, who was in the neonatal ICU struggling mightily in the first few days of his life. That gesture cut straight to our hearts. And until Mick was finally able to come home, Larry would check in daily on his progress.”

— Bob Dunning, columnist, The Davis Enterprise


“Larry Vanderhoef was one of those rare leaders in American higher education who approached every challenge with the best interests of students and the community in mind. I had the honor of working with him for more than two decades and can think of no more gracious and elegant leader than Larry. His contributions were enormous and he never sought credit for his good works."

— Brice Harris, chancellor, California Community Colleges (since 2012); and former chancellor, Los Rios Community College District (1997-2012)


"During my two terms as campus Academic Senate chair, and systemwide Academic Senate chair, I worked closely with Chancellor Vanderhoef beginning when he was the executive vice chancellor. While we had our differences on occasion, Larry was always a wonderful and trustworthy negotiation partner and a person whom I always respected and admired. Of all of the UC administrators with whom I have worked, I think Larry understood the workings of the Academic Senate better than anyone else. The consequence, of course, was that he was able to successfully work with the Senate (might I say use the Senate?) to accomplish his goals for the Davis campus, which thrived as a result of his leadership."

— Daniel Simmons, professor emeritus of law; and former chair, Davis Division of the Academic Senate (1991-93 and 2004-06)


“In addition to the arts and sciences, Chancellor Vanderhoef was a  firm believer in the power of academic diplomacy. While at UC Davis, he promoted study abroad programs and the importance of international engagement in the Middle East. He believed that being exposed to new cultures and new ways of thinking can foster dialogue and greater understanding.”

— Rep. John Garamendi, whose district includes UC Davis, in remarks entered in the Congressional Record


“Dr. Vanderhoef was a pioneer in promoting educational exchange and academic diplomacy between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran, leading a UC Davis delegation to Iran in 2004 and another, broader American academic delegation in 2008. His efforts to promote U.S.-Iranian educational exchange were inspirational, and we deeply appreciate his own long-standing support for the Department of State’s efforts in this regard.”

— Office of Iranian Affairs, U.S. Department of State

The campus community had gathered in the Mondavi Center’s Jackson Hall on Nov. 4, joining his family and others for a celebration of Vanderhoef’s life. He died Oct. 15 of complications from a series of ischemic strokes. He was 74. Read Chancellor Emeritus Vanderhoef's obituary in Dateline UC Davis.

The celebration began with a slideshow and concluded with Vanderhoef in a video clip, giving his last Fall Convocation address before stepping down as chancellor.

Professor Emeritus of Music D. Kern Holoman conducted the symphony orchestra, including alumni and others who wanted to be part of this special performance; and Vanderhoef’s daughter, Susanne, sang an aria, Bach’sBist du bei Mir.

Nine people reflected on Vanderhoef’s life, and here is a snippet from each person’s talk.


Ralph J. Hexter, provost and executive vice chancellor

“One memory that stands out among the rest is how welcoming and gracious both he and Rosalie were to Manfred and me when we first arrived in Davis. That means a great deal. I know that many others would nod in agreement were I to add that we in the LGBTQ community are especially grateful for his support and friendship, all the more welcome during years that had been very, very dark.”


Linda P.B. Katehichancellor

“For 25 years Larry Vanderhoef led UC Davis with a distinctive style that inspired our campus community. During that time UC Davis experienced unprecedented growth in its student body, faculty, in its physical stature and its reputation. … Doing what matters defines his legacy and stands as a source of inspiration for all of us. The mark he has left here is indelible, and I’m honored and humbled to have followed his tenure as a chancellor here at UC Davis.”


Brice Harris, chancellor, California Community Colleges

“Larry once told me that the saddest place on earth is a university campus over winter, summer or spring break. All these buildings, he said, are of no value without the students and the faculty, without teaching and learning.” (Harris became friends with Vanderhoef when he was chancellor of the Los Rios Community College District.)


Bob Grey, former provost and executive vice chancellor

In talking about a heated argument over a staffing decision — an argument that lasted an hour until he and Vanderhoef apologized to each other, Grey said: “And that might have been the end of it, except the next morning when I came to my office there was a floral delivery waiting for me on my conference table. It was a beautiful white lily, a peace lily, and it had a note from Larry, that said — and I still have the note — ‘Dear Bob: The wonderful thing about honest friendships is that they survive the tough times.’ That altercation and the resolution of it and Larry’s graciousness served to forge a bond of trust between us and a friendship that lasted to the end.”


Virginia Hinshaw, former provost and executive vice chancellor

“He was a ‘we’ leader. It was always about ‘we,’ not ‘I.’ He respected the fact that it took every single person here to advance UC Davis. And that respect also generated loyalty to him and the institution. He was a great leader. … He was the best listener with whom I ever worked. At first I thought he just didn’t like to talk. But he was busy listening.”


Zuhair Munir, former dean, College of Engineering

Munir told about the time he asked Vanderhoef and then-Dean of Engineering Mo Ghausi to stand on either side of him for a photo, and then announced that he had wanted for some time to have a picture taken of Larry, Curly and Mo. “After that, I actually worried that Larry may not like to be associated with the Three Stooges, but when subsequently I had a reason to meet with him in his office, I saw that picture prominently displayed on the wall behind his desk. That picture, by the way, has been on the wall of my office ever since. It will remain so as a reminder of a wonderful friend.”


Seth Merewitz, former ASUCD president

Merewitz, who was a student leader during Vanderhoef’s tenure, speaking to Rosalie Vanderhoef and children, Susanne and Jon: “On behalf of all of the students and alumni who benefited from Chancellor Vanderhoef’s leadership of the campus, my sincere condolences on your loss. Thank you for sharing him with us. We are all saddened at the passing of this special man.”


Bob Segar, assistant vice chancellor, Campus Planning and Community Resources

“What I have come to realize as people recall their experiences with Larry, is that he was always giving gifts. I don’t mean the kind of gifts that are all wrapped up in a package with a bow, although I’m sure he gave those kinds of gifts, too. I mean the gestures and the kindnesses and the confidences that he shared with people — gestures that sent them away feeling honored and empowered and recognized and included.”


Rosalie Vanderhoef

In talking about her husband’s speech a year ago to emeriti and retirees, on the topic of “The Three T’s,” Vanderhoef's widow said: “’I know that you know these three T’s,’ he told the retirees that day, ‘because you live them and you give of them generously, you always have, and UC Davis is the great beneficiary. So what are those three T’s? Time, talent and treasure.’ He may have been talking to the retirees that day, but if he were here today, he would be saying the same thing to all of you. And he would be adding a fourth T, as he did that day. Thanks. He would be saying, ‘Thank you so much for all you do for UC Davis, and, on its behalf, the campus is forever changed, for the better, because of you.’”

She then presented the video clip of the chancellor’s convocation address in 2008, the university’s centennial year. Said Chancellor Vanderhoef: “Just as UC Davis was there 100 years ago, anticipating and responding to society’s needs, I know that we’ll be there doing the same thing in our second century. This really is not an option for us. It’s in our genes. It’s our culture. It’s what we do, and we do it well.”

And, just as the audience in the video gave him a standing ovation, so did the audience watching the video — until the video showed the chancellor extend his hands in front of him, palms down, asking people to take their seats.

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