Robert H. Chambers 1939-2015

Robert H. Chambers 1939-2015

January 29, 2015

McDaniel College will host a remembrance ceremony in honor of its seventh president, Robert Hunter Chambers III, who died Jan. 15 of complications from an intestinal ulcer at the age of 75. The ceremony will be held on campus at 3 p.m. Feb. 14 in Western Maryland College Alumni Hall, with a reception to follow in McDaniel Lounge.

During Chambers’ tenure from 1984-2000 at the helm of then Western Maryland College, the institution grew nationally and internationally. Enrollment increased from just over 1,000 undergraduate students to 1,500. The endowment tripled, especially as a result of his leadership of The Defining Moment campaign, the College’s first major comprehensive fundraising effort.

Physically, the campus was transformed with the renovation of every major academic building and the addition of several others, including the new Hoover Library and Eaton Hall of Science, as well as an addition to Levine Hall. Among his proudest achievements was having co-founded a branch campus in Budapest Hungary, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2014.

Best known as Bob, Chambers was born and raised in Winston-Salem, N.C. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and business administration from Duke University in 1962 and married his high school sweetheart, the former Alice Grant. They moved to New Haven, Conn., where he completed a bachelor’s degree in divinity in 1965 as a Rockefeller Fellow at Yale University, and then to Providence, R.I., where he earned a doctorate in American civilization at Brown University.

He began his academic career in 1969 at Yale, where he served as assistant professor of English and American studies and dean of Davenport College, spending a funded leave as a visiting fellow at Cambridge University’s Clare College from 1972 to 73. At Yale, he had the opportunity to work with one of his mentors, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Robert Penn Warren, and he also formed a friendship with cartoonist Gary Trudeau, who as a senior shared a floor with Chambers and family in the residential college of Davenport. The two kept in touch and, years later, Trudeau gave Chambers permission to use his Doonesbury characters for Western Maryland College’s innovative student recruitment campaign.

In 1975, Chambers was named Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of English at Bucknell University, where he edited a volume of critical essays titled, “Twentieth Century Interpretations of ‘All The King’s Men.’” While on sabbatical in 1982, he was a visiting scholar at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan.

Chambers was named the seventh president of Western Maryland College in 1984. Throughout his presidency, he taught a literature course each semester and introduced students to the wonders of literary luminaries, including his favorite Southern writers and Maryland native John Barth, who he brought to campus. In 1994, he became the founding director of the nonprofit arts organization Common Ground on the Hill and in 2000, Common Ground named the Robert H. Chambers Award for Excellence in the Traditional Arts in his honor. The award has been presented to such notable musicians as Richie Havens, Buckwheat Zydeco and Doc Watson. In 1995, he brought the Baltimore Ravens training camp to campus, where they stayed until 2011.

A vocal advocate for independent higher education, he served as chair of the board of the Maryland Independent College and University Association and a board member of the Independent College Fund of Maryland, among other organizations. After leaving Western Maryland College in 2000, Chambers worked as a senior consultant for Marts & Lundy, Inc., an international firm assisting colleges, universities and preparatory schools with their fundraising needs. In 2004-05, while on leave from Marts & Lundy, he traveled to Australia to become provost and dean of Trinity College, University of Melbourne.

A world traveler who had visited 70 countries on six continents and the 48 contiguous states, Chambers hiked 530 miles across northern Spain in 2000. He was a long-time runner who logged some 18,000 miles. His personal library included 4,000 books. He also collected antique clocks, coffee mugs and Elvis Presley memorabilia.

He is survived by son Grant Chambers of San Francisco; daughter Lisa Chambers of New York City; brother Ralph “Mac” McDonald Chambers of Greensboro, N.C.; and his companion, Jennie Mingolelli of Indio, Calif.; and his former wife, Alice Grant Chambers of Annapolis, Md.

The family will hold a celebration of his life on May 17, 2015, in Winston-Salem, NC. Memorials should be directed to Common Ground on the Hill, which is establishing a scholarship in his name. (Common Ground on the Hill, 2 College Hill, Westminster, MD, 21157; 410-857-2771;