Robert Hemenway, who served as the 16th chancellor of the University of Kansas from 1995 to 2009, died Friday from complications of Parkinson’s disease.
Hemenway, who had been cared for in a Lenexa nursing home, was 73 years old.
According to an account in the Lawrence Journal-World, he died surrounded by his family. In lieu of flowers, the family suggested contributions to the Robert E. Hemenway Scholarship fund in care of the KU Endowment office.
A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Aug. 9 at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics on the KU campus.
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Hemenway’s tenure at KU was notable for his work to help separate KU Hospital from direct state control and for separating KU Medical Center, the university’s medical school, from the hospital. The split freed the hospital to operate independently and was credited with helping improve the medical school’s focus on teaching and research. The improvements have helped gain National Cancer Institute designation.
He also was partly responsible for advancing the profile of KU athletics by hiring basketball coach Bill Self.
“I came to Kansas in large part because I believed in him,” Self has said of Hemenway. “When I came to KU, there was not a permanent athletic director. I came because of the respect I have for him.”
An English teacher who was a scholar of African-American literature — noted for writing the first biography of Harlem Renaissance novelist Zora Neale Hurston — Hemenway was noted, too, for offbeat fun. One year he sang his commencement speech instead of speaking it. Hemenway continued teaching throughout his tenure as chancellor.
During his tenure, KU stepped up admission criteria, completed more than $310 million in construction projects and doubled research dollars to more than $300 million a year. At the time of his resignation, he said he also wanted to be known for working to increase the number of women and minorities on the KU faculty.
Hemenway emphasized building bridges between the university and other entities, including corporations and city governments. A prominent Kansas City business leader once suggested that Kansas 10 between Lawrence and Kansas City should be named Hemenway Highway because of the chancellor’s extensive participation in civic affairs.
“He can be in Kansas City for a breakfast meeting, in Lawrence for a noon meeting, in Topeka later that afternoon, and then back in Lawrence for a late-night meeting,” said Bill Hall, president of the Hall Family Foundation, in a 2009 interview.
Students and faculty members generally credited Hemenway with being a good listener and having their best interests at heart.
He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska Omaha and a doctoral degree from Kent State University. He worked at the University of Kentucky and the University of Oklahoma before being named chancellor at KU.
Hemenway, who was succeeded as chancellor by Bernadette Gray-Little, is honored with his name on the Robert E. Hemenway Life Sciences Innovation Center and on the Dole Institute Robert Hemenway Award for Outstanding Public Service.
Hemenway leaves his wife, Leah, three daughters, five sons, their spouses and partners, and 12 grandchildren.
The Star’s Mará Rose Williams contributed to this report.