UC Irvine Pays Last Respects to Its First Leader : Memorial: ‘Chancellor Dan’ is honored in the garden he called the heart of the university. His successor says Aldrich will always have a place in its heart.
He was remembered as a gregarious and compassionate man of the soil, a fierce competitor and a builder of human bridges who, through vision and force of personality, created and molded a thriving university that aspires to greatness.
In honor of UC Irvine founding chancellor Daniel G. Aldrich Jr., who died last month at 71 after a long battle with cancer, two citrus trees were dedicated Friday in the rock garden he had chosen to be the university’s heart.
There were many moist eyes among the more than 350 colleagues, friends and family of the man known affectionately as “Chancellor Dan” when his successor, UCI Chancellor Jack Peltason, read the inscription placed at the foot of the rocky outcropping in Aldrich Park:
“May these rocks be so regarded: That the right man came here at the right time and from this bare ground built a place as lasting.”
Those words were written by the late architect William Pereira in his memoir recalling how in December, 1961, the towering Aldrich strode the rolling expanse of the Irvine Ranch until he spotted the craggy outcropping in a bowl-shaped depression. Instantly, he declared it the spot around which the fledgling university would take shape.
“This is the heart of (UCI),” Peltason said as sunlight streamed over his shoulder through tall eucalyptus, sycamore and pine trees ringing the central greensward. “It is the place where those of us . . . have had occasion to come and to dream and to build. . . .
“Dan wanted us to continue to build. He did not want us to spend a moment in mourning. No sadness, no tears. He asked that we continue to look forward . . . (to focus) on UCI and what it will become,” Peltason said.
Nearly 25 years after the first freshman entered its doors, UCI has become “one of the most respected campuses in the country,” University of California President David P. Gardner said in a letter read by UC Vice President William Baker.
A soil chemist when he began his career with the University of California citrus experiment station in Riverside in 1943, he became the UC system’s dean of agriculture in 1958. Four years later, he was named chancellor of UCI, which held its first classes in September, 1965.
A native of New Hampshire who never lost his Yankee accent, Aldrich was instrumental in recruiting top-flight scholars such as the co-discoverer of the neutrino, Frederick Reines, brain scholar James L. McGaugh and ozone layer expert F. Sherwood Rowland. By the time he retired in 1984, UCI had vaulted into the ranks of top of American universities.
Aldrich’s retirement was short-lived, however. The same year, UC President Gardner tapped the man he dubbed his “utility chancellor” to take over UC Riverside upon the death of its leader, Tomas Rivera.
Aldrich served at Riverside until July, 1985. In July, 1986, Gardner again brought him out of retirement to take over UC Santa Barbara, when Chancellor Robert A. Huttenback resigned amid accusations of misusing university funds.
Aldrich left Santa Barbara in June, 1987, and was named chancellor emeritus at UCI, where he kept an office and stayed active in academic affairs.
Michael J. Krisman, member of UCI’s first graduating class of 1969 and former UCI student body president during the days of draft-card burnings, sit-ins and anti-war protests, recalled Aldrich’s honesty and appreciation for new ideas, even those he did not agree with.
During one demonstration, Aldrich telephoned him and asked, “ ‘Michael, how long are the students planning to live in the English Department? Let’s talk about it.’ . . .
“In a time of antiheroes, Dan believed in setting an example. In a time of questioning values, Dan knew there were eternal truths. In a time of practiced cynicism, Dan was an optimist . . . (who) saw and expected the best in people.”
For Irvine Co. vice president Ray Watson, who was a young architect charged with building the planned community of Irvine around the University of California campus, Dan Aldrich was a builder of bridges--between the institution and the development firm, between people and communities.
“He built a solid bridge to a conservative Orange County that was skeptical, if not hostile, to the idea that a liberal institution from Berkeley was locating here,” Watson said. “He taught us what can be achieved through communication, cooperation, mutual respect and bold ideas . . . to achieve the greatest good for the most people.”
At the last, Aldrich accepted his illness and was prepared to “get on with it,” his widow, Jean, recalled.
Gazing into the faces of those assembled on the grassy knoll, she recalled the simple, direct man whose life was devoted to making the world in which he lived a cleaner, better, happier place:
“I would venture to guess that on the road to heaven, if he saw one small gum wrapper, he stopped and picked it up.”
Peltason, who was UCI vice chancellor for academic affairs in the university’s earliest years, invited all to share Aldrich’s vision.
“This (campus) is his monument. Most of all, end your day doing what Dan would want you to do: sit on the grass, perch on a bench and dream. . . . And for heaven’s sake, don’t forget to pick up any litter you may see lying about. Remember, Dan is watching.”