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obituary

Dana G. Mead, who formerly chaired the MIT Corporation, dies at 82

Dr. Mead was known for his “wisdom and warmth, and his discipline and depth of curiosity.”
Dr. Mead was known for his “wisdom and warmth, and his discipline and depth of curiosity.”

Early on in Dana G. Mead’s tenure chairing the MIT Corporation, Susan Hockfield was hired as the school’s first female president, and he also began increasing diversity on the institution’s board.

“I wanted the Corporation to begin to reflect a little more what the Institute looked like,” Dr. Mead recalled in a 2009 interview for the MIT Infinite History project.

“For instance, women was one area. Here we were admitting classes with 40, 45 percent women,” he added, but the Corporation board’s female membership lagged far behind.

By the time he stepped down as chairman in 2010, when he had reached the age limit for the position, the number of women on the Corporation had increased by about 50 percent. “A high priority of the Corporation is to achieve greater representation of women and minorities in its membership,” he had written in 2006, three years into his chairmanship.

Dr. Mead, whose career took him from West Point to Vietnam, Washington, D.C., and top corporate jobs, died Oct. 31. He was 82 and lived in Boston.

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“I had the very great fortune to have Dana Mead at my side, as chair of the MIT Corporation, when I embarked on my service as MIT’s president,” Hockfield said in a statement. “Dana advised and encouraged me, generously sharing the prodigious wisdom he had gained over the course of a lifetime of service and leadership. He quickly became my trusted advisor. Dana deftly but unambiguously established lines of governance, strengthening the roles of both the Corporation and Institute leadership, to MIT’s great benefit.”

A retired Army colonel, Dr. Mead brought precision and discipline to every job, even after leaving the military for the corporate world, though at times he leavened his officer’s bearing with humor.

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“Even while Dana instructed us, he also amused us,” Hockfield said. “When a discussion had gone on too long, he often observed, ‘Everything has been said, but not everyone has had a chance to say it.’ With his wisdom and warmth, and his discipline and depth of curiosity, Dana Mead devotedly served MIT.”

Dr. Mead had been a White House fellow and a West Point professor. He wrote four volumes of the Pentagon Papers and was a corporate executive with International Paper and the Tenneco conglomerate.

With Thomas C. Hayes, he also wrote “High Standards, Hard Choices: A CEO’s Journey of Courage, Risk, and Change,” a 1999 book about Dr. Mead’s corporate career. “There is no rocket science in quality management,” Dr. Mead wrote. “Getting it right the first time, satisfying customers, reducing variations in process, and continually improving products is just common sense in business.”

He was more than merely pragmatic, however. Along with his corporate board memberships, he formerly chaired the US board of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Dr. Mead recalled in the Infinite History interview that he found the company’s creative process fascinating.

“I loved to watch how they did it,” he said. “You’ve got to remember, they’re putting plays on that have been probably produced, what — 50,000 times? And they do it differently each time. And they’re very creative.”

Dr. Mead “was an amazing guy in everything he did and how he balanced everything,” said his son Mark of Hunting Valley, Ohio. “He was the hardest worker I ever knew, but he always made time for his family. He was the biggest proponent for the family you could ever imagine.”

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The older of two brothers, Dana Mead was born in Cresco, Iowa.

The Mead family owned local newspapers, which is where his parents, George Mead and Evelyn Derr, both worked and met. She had graduated first in her high school class and continued to work in newspapers after the Meads sold their publications and the family moved to Cottage Hills, Ill., when Dr. Mead was 13.

“My mother learned how to run the Linotype actually,” Dr. Mead later recalled.

Like his mother, Dr. Mead would become adept at learning new things — in schools, in sports, and in businesses. He was captain of his high school football team and senior class president, credentials that attracted college recruiters.

He chose to attend West Point, from which he graduated in 1957 with a bachelor’s degree. “The first day at West Point’s quite a shock,” he told MIT. Upon arriving, “your life has been transformed. Most people lie in bed the first night staring at the ceiling and say, ‘What in the world am I doing here?’ ”

The year he graduated, Dr. Mead married Nancy Cooper, whom he had met in high school.

Dr. Mead served with 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and with the 3rd Armored Division in West Germany. While in the Army, he was a White House fellow and was deputy director of the Domestic Council in the White House during the administration of President Richard M. Nixon. Dr. Mead also held a combat command position in Quang Tri, Vietnam, his family said.

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The Army sent him to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, from which he graduated in 1967 with a doctorate in political science. His dissertation was on peacetime strategic planning, and he subsequently taught in West Point’s social sciences department.

After retiring from the Army, Dr. Mead became a corporate executive. He was executive vice president at International Paper when he was recruited by Tenneco, first to be second-in-command, and then to serve as president, chairman, and CEO.

Dr. Mead, who also had been chairman of the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable, retired from Tenneco in 2000 after leading the company for much of the 1990s.

Susan Hockfield (right), the 16th president of Mass Institute of Technology, was presented at the Faculty Club today. Answering questions with her is Dana G. Mead, Chairman of the MIT Corporation (left). Hockfield, a neuroscientist and current provost at Yale University, will take her position at MIT in December, according to the MIT News Office.
Susan Hockfield (right), the 16th president of Mass Institute of Technology, was presented at the Faculty Club today. Answering questions with her is Dana G. Mead, Chairman of the MIT Corporation (left). Hockfield, a neuroscientist and current provost at Yale University, will take her position at MIT in December, according to the MIT News Office.The Boston Globe

In 2003, he began chairing the MIT Corporation, where along with spearheading fund-raising he performed many duties, among them running meetings and chairing major committees.

“I’m also, for lack of a better term, the shepherd of the bylaws of the Corporation,” he said in the Infinite History interview. “Bylaws of old institutions, you know, atrophy with time, and I’ve spent a fair amount of my time in these six years picking through our bylaws and trying to bring us into the 21st century.”

All those responsibilities added up to “a very full plate,” he added. “It’s advertised as not more than 50 percent of your time. In fact, it takes about 110 percent of your time.”

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In addition to his wife, Nancy, and his son Mark, Dr. Mead leaves his other son, Dana Jr. of Menlo Park, Calif.; his brother, Michael of Wheaton, Ill.; and seven grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the Old Cadet Chapel at West Point Cemetery.

Dr. Mead, who had been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Council on Foreign Relations, was as active away from boardrooms as he was in academia and the corporate world. He skied, taught himself to sail, and played tennis. He read five to 10 books at a time, switching back and forth.

“And he had a wanderlust for traveling,” Mark said. “He and my mother were true partners — they would do everything together. In the last five years alone they traveled across the country twice, just driving.”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.