Rev. Theodore Hesburgh (1917-2015), President Emeritus of the University of Notre Dame and Past President of the Rockefeller Foundation, led the University for 35 years. He is considered one of the most influential figures in higher education in the 20th century.
Fr. Hesburgh stepped down as head of Notre Dame on June 1, 1987, ending the longest tenure at that time among active presidents of American colleges and universities. After a year-long sabbatical, he returned to a retirement office on the 13th floor of the newly named Hesburgh Library. One of his first projects was the completion of an autobiography, God, Country, Notre Dame, which became a national best seller after its publication in 1990.
In July 2000, Fr. Hesburgh’s public service career was recognized when he became the first person from higher education to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. Leadership of the Senate and House of Representatives gathered in the rotunda of the Capitol as President Clinton presented the medal.
Fr. Hesburgh held 16 presidential appointments over the years — most recently to the Commission on Presidential Scholars — and they involved him in virtually all major social issues — civil rights, peaceful uses of atomic energy, campus unrest, treatment of Vietnam offenders, Third World development, and immigration reform, to name only a few. At the same time, he remained a national leader in the field of education, serving on many commissions and study groups.
In 1986, Fr. Hesburgh encouraged David Gaus to return to school at Notre Dame to fulfill his pre-med requirements. He asked Eppie Lederer (Ann Landers) to help fund David’s medical and public health training at Tulane University. In 1996, he assisted Dr. Gaus in creating Andean Health & Development, non-governmental organization dedicated to establishing models of self-sustainable, comprehensive health care in poor, rural areas of Latin America. He served as Chair of the Statutory Board and the Advisory Board of Andean Health & Development.
Fr. Hesburgh died on February 26, 2015 at which point he remained actively involved only with Notre Dame and Andean Health & Development.