Roger Williams University President Dies After Sudden Illness

Jul 6, 2018

Donald J. Farish, Roger Williams University's 10th President, died Thursday at Tufts Medical Center in Boston after a sudden and serious illness. Faculty and students gathered Friday morning in the library at Roger Williams University to mourn the sudden loss.

During his seven years as president, Farish transformed Roger Williams into a university more focused on community engagement. He also froze tuition payments in an effort make the college more affordable, and  called for a solution to what he described as a wealth gap among universities. He provided a vision for a modern university, aiming to “build the university the world needs now” and strongly positioning the university for its next phase of institutional growth.

Among the accomplishments during Farish’s tenure includes doubling the size of its presence in Providence; hiring the college’s first-ever chief diversity officer; growing the Community Partnerships Center to involve 2,811 students engaged in 259 community partnerships and launching “The Vision Project,” with more than 20 committees of faculty, staff, students and trustees working jointly to articulate a bold new core purpose in teaching and learning for RWU.

Farish planned to retire as RWU’s President in 2019, culminating a remarkable 51-year career in academia. University officials said the decision was unrelated to any health issues.  

Farish was 75-years old and is survived by his wife, Maia Farish. 

Rhode Island Remembers Donald J. Farish

Andrew Workman, RWU Provost, said, “Don Farish will be honored beyond the campus for his clear-eyed understanding of the challenges faced by higher education and his bold proposals to meet them.” Workman said Farish will be remembered for his eloquence, intelligence, wit, and deep concern for students. 

Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said the state lost a wonderful, wise champion for higher education with President Donald Farish’s passing. Responding in a tweet he said, "President Farish embodied the ideals that Roger Williams set forth for Rhode Island, and Roger Williams University thrived under his thoughtful leadership."

Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse tweeted in response to the passing of Donald J. Farish, Roger Williams University's 10th President.
Credit Twitter

David Cicilline, U.S. Representative of Rhode Island, said Farish was a great friend and wonderful mentor to students. He said the state "lost one of its great education and civic leaders."

“Don Farish was an extraordinary leader for Roger Williams University,” RWU Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration, Jerome Williams, said in a statement. “He not only had great vision for the University but great vision for higher education in general. His efforts to expand experiential learning while freezing tuition for our students was innovative and moved the University forward. He did this with exceptional leadership, transparency and a respect for everyone. He will be greatly missed.”

The school will have a time for quiet reflection and coming together as a community will be set aside Friday on the Bristol and Providence campus.