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Former Speaker of the House
awarded University medal
February 15, 1999

Thomas D. Ritter, speaker of the House of Representatives for an unprecedented three terms and a state representative from 1981-1998, has been awarded the University's highest honor.

Ritter, a 1977 graduate of the School of Law, received the University Medal, awarded to only 23 people since its establishment in 1983, during a reception February 9, at the law school.

The award recognizes outstanding professional achievement, leadership, and distinguished public service on a community, state, national or international level, and an extraordinary commitment to the University.

During the ceremony at the School of Law, which drew dozens of state legislators, UConn trustees and officials, and Ritter's family and friends, a variety of speakers, including Gov. John G. Rowland, alternately roasted and praised the former Speaker of the House. He was praised - and skewered - for one of his last successes in office, the effort that is bringing the New England Patriots to Hartford. That agreement also provides a home for UConn football, should the team be upgraded to Division I-A.

Ritter also was praised for his ability to gain consensus on issues and for his work ethic. But primarily, he was praised for his love and devotion to UConn, his drive to gain passage of the UConn 2000 legislation, and his passionate efforts, as Speaker and as a rank-and-file member of the legislature, to provide adequate funding for UConn's operating budget.

Ritter, who left the state legislature after the 1998 session, his sixth as Speaker of the House, consistently delivered support and targeted funding to Connecticut's cities and towns. He worked diligently during his 19 years in the House to gain increased funding for UConn. He also was instrumental in making the nearly $1 billion UConn 2000 capital improvement program a reality, and he was especially important in convincing his fellow legislators to include a matching grant program in the UConn 2000 legislation - a program that helped UConn raise more than $20 million last year.

"Time and again, Rep. Ritter has demonstrated an extraordinary degree of dedication and service to the University," President Philip E. Austin said. "More than simply believing that UConn contributes immeasurably to Connecticut's well being by educating state residents and fostering the state's economic development, Tom has translated that belief into action."

Ritter's work was pivotal in the passage of a series of legislative changes in the early 1990s that gave the University greater administrative autonomy and responsibility. He was a key advocate of funding for the School of Law library.

He also was responsible for instituting Husky Day at the state Capitol, a celebration in both chambers of the General Assembly honoring the academic and athletic successes of UConn students.

Previous winners of the University Medal include former Gov. John N. Dempsey, Andrew J. Canzonetti and Lewis B. Rome, both former chairs of the University's Board of Trustees, Laurence Ackerman, first dean of the business school, H. Fred Simons, a former assistant vice president who helped build the Day of Pride program, and the UConn Alumni Association.

The current chair of UConn's trustees, Roger A. Gelfenbien, presented the medal to Ritter.

Ritter, an attorney, was a member of numerous committees while a member of the legislature, and was elected three times to be the leader of the House of Representatives.

He also won numerous awards while a representative, including being named Legislator of the Year by the Connecticut Library Association and the Connecticut Democratic Caucus, which honored him with the award twice. He was given the Community Service Award by Hartford Area Rallies Together (HART) a well known civic organization, and many other awards.

He was elected president of the National Speakers Association and was a member of the board of directors of the State Legislative Leaders Foundation.

Ritter graduated with honors from Amherst College in 1974. He and his wife, Judge Christine Keller, have two children.

Richard Veilleux