Jim Dickinson ’39
When Jim Dickinson was asked to stand at a chapel ceremony during Reunion 2014 to be recognized as the oldest returning alumnus, his career with the university had come full circle. In that very building as a freshman in the fall of 1935, Jim’s first Colgate job paid him 30 cents per hour as assistant chapel custodian. In the years between his first and final chapel, “he served his alma mater in every capacity,” as cited in the Award for Distinguished Service to Colgate that he received in 1969. (He was also honored with the Maroon Citation, in 1955.)
As a student, Jim was a member of Phi Delta Theta and chorus. After graduating cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, Jim earned a master’s in French at Middlebury College prior to serving three years with the Army Counter Intelligence Corps during World War II. In 1946, he began working on his PhD at New York University and returned to Colgate as a Romance languages professor, a position he held for the next 14 years. While frequently teaching six courses a semester, he worked afternoons in the alumni office and coordinated eight alumni reunions.
In the spring of 1949, serving as faculty adviser to the Colgate sailing club, Jim and Doug Campbell ’50 decided it was time to build the club’s own boats and elicited significant alumni support for materials. The basement of Jim’s home was opened to a steady parade of student boatbuilders during the early 1950s.
If his July 13 birthday didn’t indicate that Jim was destined for a life revolving around Colgate, perhaps his residence did. He and wife Katy rented Olmstead House, where the 13 men of yore originally met. They lived there from 1951 to 1964; 13 years, of course. Because of a post-war campus housing shortage during the 1950s, Jim and Katy opened a bedroom of their home to house students.
In 1958, Jim had the honor of leading Colgate’s first international study group when he took 10 undergrads to study in Argentina and live with families there.
After leaving teaching in 1960 to assume the role of executive vice president of the Alumni Corporation, Jim was appointed Colgate’s first administrative vice president overseeing the offices of development, public relations, and alumni affairs. He criss-crossed the country many times to meet with alumni and friends of Colgate. Many of his business flights originated from the Hamilton airport after he earned his private pilot’s license.
Jim spearheaded Colgate’s 1960s CRISP campaign, the university’s largest fundraising initiative to that point. In Colgate’s sesquicentennial year of 1969, his efforts were recognized with a co-dedication of the ’69 Salmagundi to him as a “teacher and administrator, a Colgate ‘son,’ and innovative leader.”
In 1970, he accepted the presidency of Westbrook College in Maine.
At age 92, during Reunion 2010, Jim delivered a presentation titled “Colgate 1935–1970.” He said: “Colgate has always been a good college. But today it is a great college.”
He kept his classmates up to date for 5 years by serving as the Colgate Scene class editor. In his last five years, Jim never went outdoors without his Colgate ’39 hat.
Jim died in York, Maine, on June 17 with his son, Craig, and daughter-in-law, Paula, at his side. He is also survived by a nephew, Chris Rich ’69. He was predeceased by his first wife, Katy, in 1975, and his second wife, Kitty, in 2008.
— Craig Dickinson