Ulli Steltzer

To the measured words of Scripture, the ancient wisdom of Sophocles, and the strains of Duke Ellington, the University community remembered the life of Princeton’s 16th president, Robert F. Goheen ’40 *48, during a service April 27 in the University Chapel. President Shirley Tilghman, former president William G. Bowen *58, and other University officials past and present were among the hundreds of people in attendance. Goheen died March 31 at the University Medical Center at the age of 88.

Goheen had planned much of his memorial service several years ago, sending his ideas to his children in a letter marked “Someday.” They included the 23rd Psalm, the Prayer of St. Francis, and the Prayer for Princeton, along with two hymns. A lover of jazz, Goheen asked that the prelude to the service be Ellington’s “It’s Freedom,” performed by the Chapel Choir. His longtime friend, James I. Armstrong ’41 *49, read an ode from Antigone.

Bowen delivered words of remembrance. Goheen, he said, “would not have wanted to be remembered for ... buildings built and dollars raised. His most lasting contribution was, without question, the values, the spirit, he infused into Princeton during his 70 years of association with the University.” Bowen in particular paid tribute to Goheen’s foresight in leading Princeton toward a more racially diverse student body and to his open-mindedness, which led him to change his opinion and embrace coeducation.

Before the postlude — recorded selections from Benny Carter’s Harlem Renaissance — and after a quick consultation with the Goheen family, former dean of the chapel Frederick Borsch ’57 announced an impromptu change in the program: the singing of “Old Nassau.”

For all the words delivered from the pulpit, the remembrance that Goheen would have appreciated most may have come from one of the pews. An African-American woman from the Class of 1975 introduced herself to an alumnus from the late ’50s.  Although Goheen had retired before she graduated, the woman remarked simply, “I wouldn’t be here without him.”