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Rome steps down as head of trustees
Officials credit his leadership

By Sherry Fisher - June 20, 1997

Lewis B. Rome, who led the Board of Trustees during a period of intense transformation at the University, recently stepped down as chair. He leaves his position with an extensive record of accomplishments on the University's behalf.

Always a strong advocate for higher education, Rome was appointed to the Board of Trustees in 1991. He was appointed chair in 1992 by Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. and reappointed by Gov. John G. Rowland.

A longtime supporter of the university, Rome, of Bloomfield, spent his college years at UConn, earning a bachelor's degree in history in 1954 and an LL.B. from the UConn School of Law in 1957.

"As chairman of the board, he has been intensely involved. I think his leadership has shown in everything from the passage of UConn 2000 to the new facilities on the South Campus to the recruitment of senior administrative personnel," said President Philip E. Austin.

Rome was known in many circles as a champion for the University.

Peter Halvorson, a professor of geography and University Marshal, said Rome "devoted an incredible amount of time and energy to the position of chairman of the board, and we all owe him a great deal for that. His enthusiasm for the University and his tremendous commitment to trying to do things for the University - it's unquestioned," he said.

Rome's leadership steered UConn through tight fiscal periods without losing sight of UConn's potential.

"He is a man who has always believed in the University and who made the University believe in itself," said Hugh Macgill, dean of the law school.

"He gave a renewed sense of energy and commitment to higher standards for the University, after many years when many people in the state thought that mediocre was good enough," Macgill said. "Lew would never say mediocre was good enough."

Rome's work on behalf of the University will be visible for years to come.He was instrumental in establishing UConn 2000, the $1 billion, 10-year bonding commitment from the state to rebuild and renew the University's campuses. Rome, a former resident of the old South Campus dorms, recently joined students and other University officials to break ground on the new South Campus residence hall and dining facility complex.

"He lives and breathes the University," said interim board Chair William Berkeley. He had "a willingness to take a lot of personal flak to do what he felt was right - to push things along and not get stuck in the bureaucratic process."

Rome's vision for the University has encompassed everything from academic programs and personnel to the University's buildings and physical plant.

Edward Allenby, vice president for institutional advancement, credits Rome for "heading the transformation of the University and creating and generating the excitement surrounding it.

"He exuded incredible enthusiasm, love, devotion and loyalty for this institution," Allenby said. "He was the person who forced us to begin to think outside of the box about what was possible."

Rome was the driving force behind the University's strategic plan, now being implemented, which outlines UConn's mission and vision for the future and he helped build a strong institutional advancement team that has already moved the University into a new arena in terms of fund-raising. "There has been an enormous improvement," said Roger A. Gelfenbien, managing partner, Andersen Consulting, and chair of the foundation's board of directors. Gelfenbien also said Rome "has set the standard for volunteers to get involved and get committed and be there to be helpful to the University."

Mark Emmert, chancellor and provost for University affairs, said, "He elevated the thinking of the University from a place that largely saw itself as a northeastern institution to seeing itself as a national institution.

"He was the leader of a very fundamental shift in the thinking of the institution and did so against the tide," Emmert added.

"In terms of the Health Center, he was an energetic and innovative leader who helped us accomplish a lot of the major changes we needed to bring about with regard to initiating our strategic plan and reengineering the way we work in our clinical structure," said Les Cutler, chancellor and provost for health affairs.

Rome's resignation ends a career in public office that has spanned three decades. He was mayor of Bloomfield in the 1960s, and later a state Senate majority leader and gubernatorial candidate. Rome, a practicing attorney in the firm of Rome McGuigan Sabanosh, P.C., once described his work as chair of UConn's Board of Trustees as the pinnacle of his career of service.

His leadership at UConn has shaped issues ranging from the big picture to many specific projects.

Shirley Ferris, Connecticut's Commissioner of Agriculture and a University trustee, noted Rome's support of the ag-biotechnology building program. "Lew saw the potential for economic growth for the state through agricultural technology," she said.

But nothing more clearly demonstrated the depth of Rome's personal commitment to the University than when his seven year-old granddaughter, Samantha Wood Rome, died last year following a car accident: the Rome family asked that contributions be made to the Nutmeg Scholars program, to establish an endowed scholarship in Samantha's name.