Monday, August 14, 2006

Requiem for a renaissance man

Kermit Hall looked briefly up at the grey, cumulus nimbus clouds amid the raging cacophony of noise that surrounded him. Large pellets of rain thumped his black umbrella as the six-foot-six man looked out among the throngs of semi-clad students frolicking in the university’s fountain as though it were a hot summer day.

He cocked a lopsided smile as they began chanting his name.

One month later, the University at Albany president heard that same chant underneath similar skies. Graduation day at the college was marred by the same driving rain, albeit several degrees warmer. But etched again on Kermit’s face was that same grin; the warm and inviting type that seems to say everything about the genial giant who wore it.

In just 18 short months, Kermit Hall became the UAlbany and UAlbany became Kermit Hall. And while he wasn’t the first university president to have an impact on the massive school, his efforts came at a time when they were needed; when students needed a face to place next to the image of the Great Dane and when faculty needed someone to rally behind. He was the right man at the right time.

He died tragically Sunday at the age of 61, sending a shockwave of sorrow throughout the university community and across the Capital Region.

There’s no way to quantify what Kermit Hall did for UAlbany as a school because he suceeded where so many of the others who preceded him failed. He gave a largely apathetic student population pride in their school, pride in their colors and pride to be a part of what could only be termed a renaissance at the college.

When UAlbany needed direction, Kermit showed the way –quite literally. As one of his first acts as president, he provided uniform signs and maps around a homogenous uptown campus that’s dubiously known for bedeviling freshmen and first-time visitors. It was a small step, but one that was oddly symbolic of Hall’s vision for the school: unite and strive toward excellence. It was something that had so sorely lacked from the school in the years prior to his administration.

Kermit was also an incredibly accessible man, always available for a chat, always around to shake hands, and always there to lend a hand. He didn’t hide away in the deep folds of the administration like so many other presidents had before him; he engaged his community and welcomed reciprocation.

On the eve of his death, both students and faculty cried openly, realizing the giant of a life that was abruptly washed away by the Atlantic somewhere along the South Carolinian coast. Today, there rests a monumental void off Washington Avenue, left by the man who was an educator, a scholar, a visionary and a friend.

Peace be with you, Kermit; rest well, gentle giant.

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