Wearing his signature long blue regalia, the presidential medal and just a hint of his familiar friendly smile, President Emeritus Leo I. Higdon Jr. looks strikingly lifelike in his official presidential portrait, which joined the College's presidential portrait gallery at an unveiling ceremony Wednesday. The painting of the man affectionately known throughout his presidency as “Big Hig” now hangs alongside the portraits of the College's other past presidents in the Ernst Common Room of Blaustein Humanities Center.
President Katherine Bergeron led the ceremony honoring Higdon, who served from 2006-2013. Bergeron credited Higdon with leading the largest fundraising campaign in the College’s history, elevating the College’s reputation and spearheading a renewal of campus infrastructure that resulted in the new science center, a new fitness center and new student social spaces, and set the groundwork for two projects completed during Bergeron’s tenure: the Zachs Hillel House and the renovation of Charles E. Shain Library.
“It’s difficult to find a space you didn’t touch,” Bergeron said.
Noting that the greatness of an institution is measured by its people, Bergeron praised Higdon as a leader whose legacy will be defined by his talent, his impact and his love of Connecticut College.
Board of Trustees Chair Pamela D. Zilly said Higdon transformed the institution, elevated its financial position and relentlessly drove efforts to increase faculty and student diversity. But she added that Higdon—who has a knack for remembering names and faces—might best be remembered as “an incredible people person.”
Higdon, when he was asked to say a few words, was quick to give credit for the successes of his tenure back to the staff, faculty and trustees of the College.
“People have been too kind in their remarks,” he said. “The reality is that the people of this institution are so unique. The dedication of the faculty and staff to the student experience is unlike any other.”
He choked up as he specifically thanked the members of his senior administration, many of whom were in attendance.
“I had the best group of senior administrators I’ve ever had at any institution,” said Higdon, who previously served as president of the College of Charleston, president of Babson College and dean of the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration at the University of Virginia. “They made my job easier.”
Higdon also thanked portrait artist Jacqueline Jasper for her attention to detail, and said the presidential portrait is one that he and his wife Ann, who was also in attendance Wednesday, could be proud of.
Since retiring as president of the College, Higdon has relocated with Ann to Charleston, South Carolina. Higdon teaches leadership courses at the College of Charleston and at Darden. He also serves on the boards of directors of HealthSouth Corp., Citizens Financial Group and Eaton Vance Corp.
In concluding his remarks, Higdon said that he was proud to see the continued success of the College and excited about the new Connections curriculum and the new strategic plan.
“Even in a competitive climate, we continue to see extraordinary students who want to come here,” he said.