Obituary: Minor Myers, Jr. 1942-2003

Numismatics has lost a wide-ranging scholar and educator. ANS member Minor Myers, Jr., who led Illinois Wesleyan University, in Bloomington, Illinois, through a period of unparalleled achievement as its president, died of cancer July 22, at the age of 60.

Born in Akron, Ohio, Myers earned a bachelor’s degree in 1964 from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. He went on to Princeton University, earning master’s (1967) and doctoral (1972) degrees in politics and political philosophy, beginning his academic career in 1968 as an instructor in government at Connecticut College, where he achieved the rank of full professor and department chair. In 1984, Myers was named provost and dean of faculty at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York, where he served for five years before becoming the 17th president of Illinois Wesleyan University in 1989.

Myers helped guide many educational organizations and institutions, serving on the boards of directors of the Foundation for Independent Higher Education, the Associated Colleges of Illinois, the Institute for the International Education of Students, and the Lyman Allyn Museum at Connecticut College. He was secretary general of the Society of the Cincinnati from 1986-1988, and although he was also a student of other areas of numismatics, his best known contribution to the field is represented by his interest in the decorations issued by this organization, resulting in the 1998 publication of his definitive work, The Insignia of the Society of the Cincinnati.

A scholar and a teacher whose varied personal interests besides numismatics included tennis, playing the piano and harpsichord, discussing music history, and collecting books and meteorites, in recent years Myers had been completing a survey of multi-talented individuals in Europe, the Americas and Japan since the Renaissance, with the working title Polymath: The World of the Multi-Talented (a company among whom he would have deserved his own place). Myers’ fascination with the 18th century led to his expertise in furniture, musical instruments, publishing, and higher education during the American colonial period, and carried this interest to the culture of Revolutionary France as well.

Myers was the author or co-author of eight books, including A Documentary History of American Interiors from the Colonial Era to 1915 (1980), and an original musical play, The College Inn Revisited (focusing on the 1920s jazz movement in Chicago and the role that city played as a launching ground for Broadway theatre in New York). In addition, He wrote numerous articles and papers on topics ranging from Roman imperial coinage to Baroque cuisine to American baseball.

During Myers’ tenure at Illinois Wesleyan, the University increased its student enrollment, selectivity, and academic profile; raised $137 million in a capital campaign; and completed $115 million of renovation and construction, including The Ames Library, the Center for Natural Science, the Hansen Student Center, and the Shirk Center for Athletics and Recreation. Under his leadership, the faculty established an annual student research conference; created semester-long programs in London and Madrid; added major or minor programs in American Studies, Anthropology, Biochemistry, Cognitive Science, Women’s Studies, Environmental Studies, Greek and Roman Studies, International Business, Russian, and Japanese Studies; and altered the calendar to develop May Term—a month-long semester during which innovative courses and off-campus study are emphasized. Also during this time, the University was granted a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, and developed exchange programs with Pembroke College of Oxford University and with Obirin and Keio universities in Tokyo.

“Minor was passionate about the value of a liberal arts education,” said Janet McNew, provost under Myers and acting president following his death. “He was the very model of a liberally educated person whose interests ranged far and wide, and who cherished learning as an end in itself…he taught us to dream and then showed us how to make those dreams a reality. “This is an enormous loss,” said Craig Hart, president of the Illinois Wesleyan Board of Trustees. “In countless ways, Minor Myers had become the heart and soul of Illinois Wesleyan. He had the highest aspirations for this University… His enthusiasm was infectious. He was a joy to be around.”

Myers is survived by his wife, Ellen, and their two sons, Minor III, and Joffre V.A.

Data provided courtesy of the Illinois Wesleyan University web-site, http://www.iwu.edu.

—Robert Wilson Hoge