Wilbur K. Pierpont, vice president emeritus, died Jan. 26 at age 85

January 28, 2000

Wilbur K. Pierpont, vice president emeritus, died Jan. 26 at age 85

Wilbur K. Pierpont, vice president emeritus, dead at age 85

ANN ARBOR—Wilbur K. Pierpont, professor emeritus of accounting and vice president emeritus at the University of Michigan, died Jan. 26 while golfing in Sarasota, Fla. He was 85.During his tenure as vice president and chief financial officer, “the University experienced its most extensive period of growth in student enrollment and staff, in financial resources, and in the growth of its campus facilities,” the U-M Regents noted when he retired in 1980. “The North Campus of the University was developed during his tenure in office, and major expansion programs were carried out in the Medical Center, the Central Campus and other campus areas. He was a major participant in the negotiations leading to the creation and development of the Flint and Dearborn campuses.” A native of Michigan, Pierpont earned a B.A. degree from Central Michigan University in 1934 and M.B.A. from the U-M in 1938. In 1941, he held a Brookings Institution Fellowship in Washington, D.C., and returned to the U-M in 1942 to complete a Ph.D. Following service in the U.S. Navy in World War II, Pierpont was appointed assistant professor in the School of Business Administration. In 1947-50, he was controller of the University, and was named vice president and chief financial officer in 1951, a position he held for 26 years. He returned to the faculty as professor of accounting in 1977. Recognizing Pierpont’s contributions, the University in 1996 named the Commons on North Campus for Pierpont and his wife, Maxine. U-M President Lee C. Bollinger noted that “as vice president and chief financial officer, Dr. Pierpont helped lead the University through a period of tremendous growth. He will be remembered not only for his integrity and superb management skills, but also for his compassion and concern for faculty, students and staff. In addition to negotiating the purchase of land for North Campus and overseeing major campus expansion programs, Dr. Pierpont helped frame America’s idea of a major research university. Michigan has benefited enormously from Dr. Pierpont’s vision and dedication. Retired for some 20 years, he remained actively involved in University life and will be deeply missed.” Colleague Paul W. McCracken, the U-M’s Edmund Ezra Day Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Business Administration, Economics and Public Policy, said, “Bill was just an incredible combination of great ability and great character. He was generally considered to be probably the best business vice president of any university in the country. He understood how to run a tight ship in terms of management, and he understood it was not the business vice president’s job to determine the program.

“After retiring,” McCracken added, “he came back to the Business School and taught here for a while. Bill very quickly established a reputation for being an excellent teacher in the classroom. He was a very pleasant, genial fellow, extremely effective, and a marvelous golfer. The list could go on and on.”

U-M President Emeritus Robben W. Fleming, under whom Pierpont served, said, “Bill was one of my favorite people in this world. He was a very caring person. He could be stern in terms of the conduct of people in office. At the same time, he was always sympathetic with a person who made a mistake.

“It is easy for someone who is a chief financial officer to become so careful that it is hard to get changes through,” added Fleming, who was president in 1968-78. “Bill always started from a position that if a person had a good idea, he would support it. He had the trust and confidence of the Regents, which is just priceless for any president. If Bill told them something, no one seriously doubted him. The Regents also had a great affection for him.

“He was interested in the academic side, always very interested in students and their problems, and finding ways to be helpful.”

Gilbert R. Whitaker Jr., former U-M Business School dean, who now is dean of Rice University’s Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management, said, “Bill Pierpont was a mentor and an inspiration to me. He was the person who convinced me to come to Michigan. He was a key adviser in all the important decisions that were made in the early days of my deanship at Michigan. More important, he was one of the finest human beings I have ever known. I will miss him greatly.”

B. Joseph White, current Business School dean, who also is the Wilbur K. Pierpont Collegiate Professor of Leadership in Management Education, said, “Bill Pierpont was one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever known. He was able, thoughtful, generous and caring. The achievements of his professional career were matched by the quality of his character and the great affection felt for Bill by so many friends and colleagues.

“On a personal note,” White added, “the greatest honor of my career has been to hold the Wilbur K. Pierpont Collegiate Professorship.”

In the years following World War II, Pierpont was a member of a joint university-government committee that established the structure for the financing of university research by the federal government.

During the rapid expansion of universities in the 1950s, he was a nationally recognized leader in the development of financial policies and organizational structures to respond to this growth.

In 1962, Pierpont was elected the first president of the National Association of College and University Business Officers, and in 1969 he was one of the original trustees of the Common Fund for Nonprofit Organizations, a nationwide fund for university investments.

Pierpont held various positions in the American Council on Education, and served as an adviser and consultant on university administration and financial affairs to the Rockefeller Foundation, the Sloan Foundation and many universities and state educational commissions.

He was a trustee of the Kresge Foundation and of the College Retirement Equities Fund.

Pierpont was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1958 by Central Michigan University and an honorary doctor of letters degree by Hope College in 1977.

Pierpont is survived by his wife, Maxine; son and daughter-in-law, James W. and Judith Ann Pierpont, of Orono, Minn., and Chicago, Ill.; and daughter and son-in-law, Ann Nelson Mack and Kenneth Mack, of Metamora.

Other survivors include three grandchildren, Jeb Mack of Seattle, Wash.; Jonathon Pierpont, of Orono, Minn.; Scott Pierpont and his wife, Elizabeth, of Winnetka, Ill.; and several great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Feb. 2 at the First United Methodist Church of Ann Arbor, 120 S. State St. A reception will follow the service.

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