President Emeritus Oakes Ames dies at 87
Oakes Ames, an accomplished experimental nuclear physicist who served as Connecticut College’s president from 1974 to 1988, died Feb. 12 at the age of 87.
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1931, Ames was the son of Amyas Ames, a successful investment banker, and Evelyn Ames, a poet and writer known for her work on wildlife and the environment. He graduated from Milton Academy in Massachusetts and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University in 1953 and a Ph.D. in physics from The Johns Hopkins University in 1957.
Ames was on the faculty at Princeton University for nine years before moving to the State University of New York at Stony Brook. His research, published widely in the scholarly journals, focused on experimental nuclear physics, atomic beams, astrophysics and pedagogy. He served as chair of the physics department at SUNY Stony Brook before being named president of Connecticut College.
He arrived on campus in 1974 with his wife, Louise, and his four children, bringing to the College a refocused emphasis on the sciences, economics, career and athletics. Ames proved to be a skillful financial manager, balancing the College’s budget each year and spearheading an ambitious campaign that added more than $33 million to the College’s endowment.
“His vision steered the College through the first decade of coeducation, while navigating the challenging waters of one of the deepest recessions of the second half of the 20th century,” President Katherine Bergeron wrote in a letter to the College community.
Ames also invested significantly in campus infrastructure. He oversaw the construction of Charles E. Shain Library at the heart of the campus, converted the former Palmer Library into the Blaustein Humanities Center, opened an indoor athletic complex and the ice arena now known as Dayton Arena, and renovated New London Hall and its laboratories with equipment that was at the time considered state of the art. A champion of emerging technology, Ames was at the forefront of integrating computers into the learning environment.
He also advanced the College’s commitment to service, often leading by example. He was chair of the Rhodes Scholarship Selection Committee of Connecticut from 1974 to 1981, and served as a trustee of the Mystic Seaport Museum, the Lawrence & Memorial Hospital, and the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. He was a member of the board of directors for the Connecticut National Bank, the Lyman Allyn Art Museum, and the Chamber of Commerce of Southeastern Connecticut, and he and Louise were major supporters of the Eastern Connecticut Symphony. Nationally, he was a trustee of the Foundation for Independent Higher Education, chair of the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges, and a member of Phi Beta Kappa (1957), the American Association of Physics Teachers, American Physics Society, and American Association for the Advancement of Science.
After his retirement in 1988, Ames remained a champion of Connecticut College, of science education, and of environmental and energy conservation. In 1994, he returned to campus to teach a course on energy alternatives. He was a supporter and board member of the governing board of Environmental Advocates of New York for more than 20 years, and served as president of the board. He served as a board member of the National Audubon Society, and was a founding member of the Audubon New York’s state board. He was also president of the New York City Audubon board from June 2009 to June 2011, and later a member of the advisory council. He was executive director of the New York Academy of Sciences and a member of the task force on non-governmental organizations for the Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology and Government.
In recognition of his many achievements and his exemplary service to the College, Ames was awarded an honorary degree in 1988. That same year, the trustees of the College established the Oakes and Louise Ames Prize, which is given annually at Commencement to the graduating senior who has completed the most outstanding honors study. In spring of 1995, then-President Claire Gaudiani announced a new endowed faculty chair in Ames’ honor, the Oakes Ames Professorship in Physics, which today is held by Professor Mohamed A. Diagne ’97.
Ames was also an accomplished pianist who took lessons well into his 80s. He and his beloved wife raised four children, Geoffrey, Michael, Stephen, and Zoe. He is also survived by three siblings and six grandchildren. His official obituary is being published in The New York Times.
In her letter to the community, Bergeron quoted Dean Emeritus of the College and Professor Emeritus of English Alice Johnson, who said of Ames upon his retirement in 1988, “He leaves a mandate to those who succeed him: Continue at all times to strengthen and expand the curriculum; support a strong, committed faculty; and seek out young teaching scholars who are imbued with the same commitment to academic excellence that always has been the hallmark of Connecticut College.”
“This legacy, which informs so much of who we are as a community today, shows the enduring impact of Oakes Ames’ presidency,” Bergeron wrote.