Former college president Robert H. Chambers dies

Former college president Robert H. Chambers dies

When McDaniel professor Ethan Seidel was recruited to help find the replacement for the college's president in 1984, he said the process was long and difficult until he met Robert H. Chambers III.

"The search had been long and we had seen a couple of hundred applicants, but he seemed like he suddenly appeared and really took the committee by storm," Seidel said. "It was his outgoing personality and his dynamism that really sold him to us."


Chambers died Thursday, Jan. 15, at the age of 75 due to complications caused by an intestinal ulcer, according to an obituary written by his daughter, Lisa Chambers. He served as president of Western Maryland from 1984 to 2000, prior to its being renamed McDaniel College in 2002.

Current President Roger Casey said Chambers left behind a sizable legacy at the college, establishing the college's campus in Budapest, Hungary, and spearheading a number of construction campaigns.

"When we think of the contemporary academic campus, that was all Bob's work," Casey said. "He was the guy who was the architect of the fundraising and construction on campus."

During Chambers' tenure the Eaton Hall of Science and Levine Hall additions were constructed as well as additions above the library and renovations throughout the campus.

Seidel worked with Chambers as his assistant and later as his vice president of administration and finance at McDaniel. He said one of Chambers' proudest legacies were the improvements to the campus library.

"One of his fields was American literature," Seidel said. "He saw the library as critical to the college. He was able to build a space that had the impact he desired and really changed the center of campus."

Chambers graduated from Duke University in 1962 with a degree in economics and business administration. He went on to graduate from the Yale Divinity School with a degree in literature and religion in 1965, and receive his doctorate in American civilization from Brown University in 1969.

Prior to his tenure at Western Maryland, Chambers served as dean of Davenport College; assistant professor of English and American Studies at Yale University; visiting scholar at Clare College, Cambridge University; and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and professor of English at Bucknell University.


His son, Grant Chambers, said his father was passionate about his work at the Westminster college, and the school provided the perfect setting for his varied interests including a passion for literature, SCUBA diving, collecting and traveling.

"The thing about McDaniel is that it is a small liberal arts college, and is a very potent microcosm for the kind of respect he had for all terms of artistic expression," Grant said. "He really thrived being in this kind of environment."

Chambers was the founding director of the Common Ground on the Hill Festival in Westminster. When he retired from Western Maryland, Common Ground organizers established the Robert H. Chambers Award for Excellence in the Traditional Arts, given each year at the Roots Music and Arts Festival in July.

Seidel said Chambers was passionate and knowledgeable about pop culture, and Grant said his father kept up with many fields of knowledge.

"Though he was someone who was an intellectual, he was into Bo Diddley, he was into sports; the range of his interests were incredible," Grant said. "I'm a musician myself, and he was absolutely supportive. That was something incredibly unique for someone in his field to be so broad."

Grant said his father cherished his time at the college and in Westminster, as he formed bonds both on the college campus and throughout the community.


"He was able to find common ground with anybody he talked to because he shared at least one interest with everybody," Grant said. "That's one of the reasons he liked McDaniel. He could build a relationship with everybody in the community. He could be friends with trustees, students, and the larger community."

Following his tenure as president, Chambers worked as a senior consultant for Marts & Lundy Inc., a firm that assists colleges with financial needs, and as provost and dean of Trinity College, University of Melbourne.

Over his career, Chambers served as chairman of the board of the Maryland Independent College and University Association; and as a member of multiple boards, including those of the Independent College Fund of Maryland, the Council of Independent Colleges, Brown University's Council of Graduate Education, and the Executive Committee of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.

Reach staff writer Jacob deNobel at 410-857-7890 or jacob.denobel@carrollcountytimes.com.