Letter to the Editor: Saying goodbye to President Easter

Yesterday was my last official board meeting as the Student Trustee for the University of Illinois. Of much higher significance, it was President Robert Easter’s final meeting before he steps down from the rank at the May 17 graduation ceremony.

He was presented gifts from each campus including a Lincoln collection from The University of Illinois at Springfield, two Falcons named in his honor from University of Illinois at Chicago and a piece of Mumford Marble from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign along with the bronze medallion of the University seal. But no token of appreciation could quite encapsulate the Illini community’s full gratitude for his service the past 40 years; service that has taken him from working with pigs to President.

I can’t help but think about all of the lives he has impacted and relationships built in between. Over the past year, I have come to observe that everyone has a President, Dr. or Bob Easter story: From an Indianapolis-area alum that was an ROTC leader on campus the day a young Bob Easter came to Illinois looking to report, to former animal science students with stories from South Farms and the numerous faculty and staff who have worked with him throughout the years.

A few of my own include sitting somewhat lost at my first Board of Trustees Healthcare meeting last July and President Easter would lean over, out of his own good measure, and side-moderate some of the background context for me throughout the discussions; or having taken time out of his busy early-morning schedule to meet for coffee; and even following up having read a book (Labor’s Millennium — a historical perspective of Jonathan Baldwin Turner’s vision for the university up through the end of the John Milton Gregory’s term as first President) within a few days of giving it to him.

Simply put, I have found that, regardless of which title he carried throughout his career, he made time for everyone.

Meeting with numerous administration and faculty, over the course of the last six months, there has been a consistent remorseful tone when the topic of President Easter’s retirement is broached. Although we are gaining a terrific leader in President-designate Killeen we have to let go the humble, genuine-visionary that has been a staple in the University leadership landscape for so many years.

Coming off back-to-back scandal-laced administrations, President Easter wasn’t the leader we deserved, but the one we needed. His continued loyalty and service, in answering the call(s) when we needed leadership the most, cannot be matched.

I have to admit, I disagreed with the Daily Illini’s heading “Accidental President” on their feature story of President Easter recently. Although it was his words, I do not think his designation as the 19th President was an accident at all. There was a greater reason.

His three years in office have left the University of Illinois in a much better place as it approaches its 150th anniversary. And for that, I think all that is left to be said by colleagues, alumni, students, legislatures and friends of Illinois in between is — Well done, good and faithful servant.

Lucas Frye, Student Trustee