Charles Barton Luce Sr., professor emeritus of physical education at Connecticut College, passed away at his home Jan. 5, 2022. It was one day after his 93rd birthday.
Charles—or Charlie, as everyone called him—was a treasure. An accomplished coach and administrator, he led the men’s basketball team and served as director of athletics at the College for 18 critical years between 1974-92. During this time, he not only elevated athletics but he also, quite literally, built the foundation on which the College’s program rests today.
Born in 1929 in Peoria, Ill., he attended Boston University, where he majored in physical education and played varsity basketball. After graduating, he coached high school in New York and Connecticut, including eight years at Greenwich High School, before returning to BU in 1967 to become the men’s head basketball coach and later assistant director of athletics.
In 1974, he came to Conn to direct physical education, coach basketball and, most importantly, develop a new varsity athletics program. It was just five years after the College had embraced co-education, and there was much to do. And so he set out to create a new set of competitive athletic offerings for women and men. He more than doubled the number of sports, adding men’s ice hockey, men’s lacrosse, women’s soccer, men’s and women’s crew and ultimately redefined the meaning of athletic engagement, with as many as 75 percent of the student body participating at one point in varsity, club and intramural sports. Through his persistence and zeal, he created a modern department of athletics aligned with the College’s mission.
The growing program required new facilities and he was instrumental in shaping the vision. He helped oversee the planning and construction of Dayton Arena in 1979, Dawley Field in 1986 and what would later become the Lyn and David Silfen Track and Field in 1996. On his retirement in 1992, the main department building was renamed the Charles B. Luce Field House in his honor.
Beyond these notable—and visible—achievements, perhaps the greatest legacy he left was his orchestration of Connecticut College’s entry into the New England Small College Athletics Conference (NESCAC) in 1982. Under then-President Oakes Ames, he took the steps that allowed the College to join what would soon be known as the elite Division III conference in the country. The College was thrilled that he lived to see his beloved Camels not only prevail in the NESCAC but also win national recognition with its first NCAA championship.
He stepped down as athletic director in 1992 but remained with the College as an advancement officer for two more years. In 1996, he was inducted into the Connecticut College Athletic Hall of Fame. In 2000, he received the College Medal in recognition of two decades of transformative leadership.
With his institutional vision and deep compassion, he left his mark on generations of Connecticut College students. So, it is fitting he would also create the College’s first award for a scholar-athlete, the Brown-Brooks Award, named after its first recipients, James Brooks ’84 and Tammy Brown ’84. The award recognizes students who reflect the highest ideals of citizenship and success on the field and beyond—values central to his own character. In Tammy’s words, “Charlie had such a gentle and caring spirit and a way of bringing out the best in you. You left his presence feeling uplifted. He will always be a part of my wonderful Conn College memories.”
Debo P. Adegbile ’91, chair of the Board of Trustees, said of Luce: “He was not only an architect of the athletics program at our College, but also an embodiment of the way in which we value, in equal measure, dedication and excellence in competition and character and personal growth. Charlie knew that our athletics program was a training ground for personal and professional success in life, and, at Conn College, he experienced both.”
The patriarch of a true multi-generational Camel family, Charles was predeceased by his first wife, Gay Devine Luce, mother of his four sons: Chuck P’97; Mike; Tim ’79, P’11; and Bill ’81 P ’14. He is survived by his sons; his wife, Margery; his sister Claire; his stepson Bill and stepdaughter Heather; his 12 grandchildren, including fellow Camels Emily ’97, Erin ’11, and Nick ’14; and his three great-grandchildren.