Meredith Jones Gray
Chair, Professor of English
BA, MA Andrews University
PhD University of Michigan
Interviewed by: Maya Nelson
Former Andrews University President, Richard Lesher, passed away in his home in Loma Linda California, on August 18, 2017. He served as president from 1984-1994.
How long did you work under President Lesher?
I worked under him his whole administration.
What was the tone on campus? What did the students like while he was here?
Well I have a faculty perspective rather than a student’s perspective obviously, but the university was coming off of a difficult time in its history when he was appointed to be president here, and he brought a sense of stability and open conversation. He tried to bring transparency to everything that transpired at the university, and so I would say that he put the university back on an even keel, and gave it a sense of stability and balance.
Were you close with him in any way or was it just a president, faculty relationship?
Not especially. At the beginning I was a very young faculty member. He came in my second year of teaching, between my second or third year probably, and I was a junior faculty member. As is so often the case in the Adventist community, everybody knows everybody, and it just so happened that he and his wife had gone to school with my mother, so I had a bit of a connection that way. And once I got married a few years later, he had also gone to Shenandoah Valley Academy with my father-in-law, so there are always connections in the Adventist world. As a result, I think it was easier for him to remember what my background was. He was always very cordial and kind to me and my husband. He was not an extrovert, he was a very reserved person and I think he found it hard to do chit-chat and small talk and so on. It wasn’t that he was unkind; it was just that he was not a social butterfly. His wife was the person who provided a lot of warmth to their relations to everybody, but then again it wasn’t because he was an abrupt person or unkind person, it was just that he was very reserved, quiet, and softspoken. Later on, years after he had retired, I interviewed him (because I am working on the history of Andrews University). I had these two long sessions of talking to him, and he was very open and very frank in his answers. So I felt then probably closer to him then I had ever felt working under him as president.
Was he, as a president, respected and revered from a faculty perspective?
I think he was generally respected, yes. People knew that he always tried to do the right thing, that he tried to be as honest as he could, and that he tried to pursue integrity. I think for those reasons he was respected and people knew that he was a man of strong faith and belief.
What was your personal reaction to finding out about his passing?
I was sad because I know his wife a little bit and because of the long conversation I had with him. I knew that he wasn’t well but I didn’t know that he was close to dying so it was a surprise for me. So sadness and regret, but I feel like he represents a life well lived and so it’s not a tragedy in the same way as when a young person dies. There is a sense of sorrow but also a sense that he was a good man.