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Henry E. Riggs, Stanford professor emeritus, dies at 80

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Henry Riggs and his wife Gayle Riggs met as Stanford undergraduates in the 50s. (Courtesy of Riggs Family Photo)
Henry Riggs ’57 and his wife Gayle Riggs ’58 met as Stanford undergraduates in the 50s. (Courtesy of Riggs Family Photo)

On Wednesday, June 10 Stanford professor emeritus Henry “Hank” Riggs ’57 passed away in his home in Palo Alto at the age of 80. As former Stanford Vice President of Development, former Harvey Mudd College president and founding president of the Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences (KGI), Riggs led an influential career propelled by a passion for teaching.

Riggs was a pioneer in a number of undertakings during his professional career, founding a graduate university and leading a multi-year fundraising effort among other accomplishments. After a decade of working at early Silicon Valley companies, serving as president of Icore Industries and chief financial officer of Measurex Corporation, Riggs began his professorship at Stanford in 1974.

In 1980, Riggs received the University’s prestigious Walter J. Gores Award for Excellence in Teaching and three years later was appointed Stanford’s Vice President of Development. Riggs also successfully launched the Stanford Centennial Campaign, a landmark effort to maintain University facilities and faculty by fundraising $1 billion, a goal that was unprecedented among universities at the time.

In addition to publishing a number of textbooks and academic papers, Riggs was outspoken about his views on the university financial system. Riggs authored an op-ed piece, “The Price of Perception,” in the New York Times in 2011. The story detailed his views on the competitive atmosphere of school ranking structures that he claimed is turning the academic system into a cutthroat business with skyrocketing tuition rates.

According to his New York Times article, Riggs believed that higher education institutions are charging high sticker-prices for tuition that is rarely paid in full due to scholarships. In his work, he argued that raising tuition causes applicants to perceive more expensive colleges as more prestigious – a mindset that he deemed caused a cycle of overspending and overuse of merit scholarships.

Educating the next generation

Riggs met his wife Gayle Riggs ’58 during their time as Stanford undergraduates. Together for 60 years, the couple had three children and six grandchildren. A few years before his death, Riggs published a financial book for young people, “You and Your Money: Making Sense of Personal Finance.” The book was largely targeted toward his grandchildren and the coming generation to help them understand simple financial concepts. Riggs’ vitality in his later years highlighted his role as both a family man and successful professor, leader and entrepreneur.

“One of the big messages his children and grandchildren will take from the life that he lived was that you should think big, identify goals and go after them and trust in your abilities to make things happen,” said Andy McCarthy, Riggs’ son-in-law.

Riggs applied this philosophy throughout multiple aspects of his career. In 1997, Riggs founded KGI, the seventh Claremont College, a graduate school that has since incubated a number of startups in Silicon Valley. According to McCarthy, the school aims to not only help biotechnology graduate students experience rigorous academic standards, but also to familiarize them with businesses in the area and become leaders in their fields. Darren Leva, a KGI graduate, former student of Riggs and the founder of IntroMaps, was one of the speakers at Riggs’ memorial service.

“[Riggs] taught finance and management which a lot of people think are dry subjects, but he thoroughly enjoyed them in an intellectual sense,” McCarthy said. “He had a gift for explaining things clearly and… a great gift for connecting with people.”

According to McCarthy, Riggs emphasized punctuality as part of his teaching and would promptly lock the lecture hall doors during the beginning of his 8 a.m. finance class. Nonetheless, his courses were frequently overfilled, and according to McCarthy, the class’s popularity stemmed from Riggs’ mastery of the course material and eagerness to share his knowledge with his students. Riggs was teaching “The Art and Logic of Fundraising” course as part of Stanford’s Continuing Studies Program just weeks before his death.

The memorial service

Riggs’ memorial service took place at Stanford’s Arrillaga Alumni Center on Tuesday, June 23. The service included a piano performance by his grandson Chris McCarthy, a poem written by his grandson Carson Witte and remarks from University colleagues such as former Dean of Engineering Jim Gibbons and professor emeritus George Parker MBA ’62, Ph.D. ’62. Many spoke about his infectious laugh and energetic persona that comforted and supported those around him.

The service also included a message from Riggs himself, who had been aware of his deteriorating condition since two weeks before his death, according to Parker. In his message, Riggs shared his last thoughts on his life and family and encouraged his grandchildren to lead a similarly “happy and fulfilling” life.

“To say that Hank was a popular teacher simply doesn’t capture it,” Parker said during Riggs’ memorial service. “Students clamored for his insights — and his wisdom — all of which emanated from an exceedingly quick mind.”

 

Contact Alice Dai at alicettdai ‘at’ gmail.com.

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