Richard F. Gross, Gordon College’s sixth president, dies at 87

Dr. Gross led the Christian college in Wenham from 1976 to 1991 and was dean for nine years before that.
Dr. Gross led the Christian college in Wenham from 1976 to 1991 and was dean for nine years before that.(Gordon College)

As Richard F. Gross prepared to step down in 1992 from leading Gordon College — the institution he had helped guide for a quarter-century, including 16 as president — he mused about the challenge faced by those who hold the top office: “How do we structure our lives to lift ourselves above the fray?”

The responsibilities were significant, the accomplishments many during his tenure at the Christian college in Wenham, he and other college officials said.

When he retired, he told the Globe that during his nine years as dean and his subsequent years as president, he took as his inspiration the “best models in higher education” as he set out to make Gordon “the best of the New England liberal arts colleges and the best Christian college.”


Dr. Gross, who served as the college’s sixth president, was 87 when he died Wednesday. The college said his death had followed complications from multiple strokes.

“Dick Gross leaves an indelible legacy at Gordon College that will never be forgotten,” Michael Lindsay, the school’s current president, said in a statement. “As a leader on Boston’s North Shore, President Gross helped build Gordon’s outstanding academic reputation, while keeping a thoughtful Christian perspective at the forefront of contemporary cultural issues.”

When Dr. Gross retired, the Globe reported that from 1967 to 1991, during most of his tenure as dean and president, Gordon College had nearly tripled the number of full-time faculty members from 28 to 75. The number of students grew from 640 to 1,192, and the school expanded its academic majors from 12 to 28.

Gordon College’s operating budget, meanwhile, had increased from slightly less than $1 million in 1965 to slightly more than $20 million for the 1991-1992 academic year.

Dr. Gross was president in 1989, during the college’s centennial, and in 1985 he led its merger with Barrington College of Rhode Island. McDonald Hall and Ferrin Hall were added during his tenure, and the Winn Library was expanded and renamed the Jenks Learning Resource Center, after a major capital fund-raising campaign.


The college also enhanced its offerings for students who wanted to study abroad.

“We want to prepare students for world citizenship and service,” he told the Globe in 1992.

Those programs included cooperative relationships with Daystar University in Nairobi, Kenya; the Gordon-at-Oxford program at Oxford University in England; a French language program in Aix-en-Provence, France; and a Latin American studies program in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Students also had the opportunity to work on multi-week or summer service projects in countries such as Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico.

“New worlds open up to them,” Dr. Gross told the Globe in the 1992 interview. “They are transformed when they come back.”

He emphasized creating new opportunities for faculty members as well, including a development program that provided a foundation for their research. Dr. Gross said in the interview that about 75 percent of the faculty participated in preparing a voluntary “growth contract,” under which they wrote a plan for their development — outlining objectives and a budget, which the college would support financially.

Dr. Gross “will be remembered for being a man of humble integrity and wisdom who developed a strong faculty as the college’s academic program expanded and guided Gordon through pivotal moments in its history,” Lindsay said in his statement.


Born in Chicago in 1931, Dr. Gross did his undergraduate work at Wheaton College in Illinois. He graduated from Michigan State University with a master’s degree and with a doctorate in education administration. He was dean of students and an assistant professor in the education department at Wheaton before going to Gordon College in 1967 to become its dean.

In 1969, when Harold J. Ockenga was appointed president of Gordon College, Dr. Gross was named senior vice president. He became president after Ockenga retired in 1976.

Gordon College and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary became separate entities in 1969.

“We are as separate from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary as Harvard is from the Harvard Divinity School,” Dr. Gross told the Globe in 1992.

He added, however, that “we’re upfront about being Christian. We’re not all things to all people. Our mission as we recruit students is to define who we are. There should be no surprises when students arrive on campus.”

Education, he said, “proceeds from some perspective. We’re trying to do that from a Christian frame of reference.”

During his years at Gordon, Dr. Gross was a member of several academic organizations. He formerly chaired the Deans’ Council of the Christian College Consortium and worked with the Council for the Advancement of Small Colleges. He also had been a member of the American Conference of Academic Deans and the American Association for Higher Education, the college said when he was appointed president.

In 2013, Dr. Gross and his wife, Jody, received the college’s Lifetime Achievement Award.


Named in his honor at Gordon College are the Richard F. Gross Distinguished Lecture Series, which hosts public officials, scholars, and other leaders, and the Richard F. Gross Fellows. According to the college, participants in the fellowships engage in a yearlong program focused on justice in urban environments.

In addition to his wife, Jody, Dr. Gross leaves their two sons, Tyler and Toby, and their grandchildren.

Details about a memorial service were not immediately available.

Even though Gordon College changed and grew significantly during his tenure, there is a “tension in trying to live with the gap between your vision and the reality. We all dream, we all have an ideal of what we want our organization to be. But you also have to live with the reality that you’re not there yet. Living with an unfinished agenda really takes its toll,” Dr. Gross said in the 1992 Globe interview.

“I thought we’d be where we are today 15 years ago. Organizations just don’t mature and develop at the rate I envisioned when I came 25 years ago. Maybe someone else can accelerate that,” he added.

After retiring, Dr. Gross served as an adviser to his successor and as president of the Gordon College Foundation.

Stepping down as the college’s president, he said in 1992, “almost pushed me to become more reflective. I am almost more focused on Gordon, I understand it better. It’s a very interesting phenomenon.”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at