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Lois Rice, at 83; helped create, guide Pell Grants

WASHINGTON — Lois Dickson Rice, a corporate executive and education policy expert who earned the moniker ‘‘mother of the Pell Grant’’ for her role in shaping the federal financial aid program that benefits millions of students each year, died Jan. 4 at a hospital in Washington. She was 83.

The cause was pneumonia and cancer, said her daughter, National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice.

Ms. Rice was an executive with the College Entrance Examination Board, now known as the College Board, when she pushed for the creation of the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant program in 1972. The program, which later was renamed for its legislative sponsor, Senator Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island, annually provides undergraduates with up to several thousand dollars of tuition money — as much as $5,920 for the 2017-18 cycle.


Ms. Rice worked directly with Pell to design the program and, as vice president of the College Board from 1973 to 1981, lobbied and testified before Congress to ensure that the grants remained intact.

‘‘This program was not inevitable, and it would not have come into existence without her, nor survived in the decades since without her passionate advocacy,’’ Clay Pell IV, a grandson of Pell and former deputy assistant secretary in the federal Education Department, said in a statement.

Beginning in 1992, Ms. Rice was a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, where she led studies on federal higher-education policies and oversaw an initiative to promote racial diversity at public policy organizations.

Ms. Rice served on the boards of the tire and rubber company Firestone, the publisher McGraw-Hill, and the supercomputer firm Control Data Corp., among many other corporations and nonprofit organizations. She was also a trustee of the Urban Institute.

Lois Dickson was born in Portland, Maine, on Feb. 28, 1933. Her father, a janitor, and mother, a maid, were Jamaican immigrants who did not graduate from high school but instilled in her an appreciation for the transformative power of higher education, her daughter said in a phone interview.


Ms. Rice earned a bachelor’s degree in history and literature from Radcliffe College in 1954. She directed counseling services at the National Scholarship Service and Fund for Negro Students before joining the College Board in 1959.