By Robert C. Jones Jr.
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (April 27, 2016)—It was a simple wave of the hand that made a then-8-year-old Edward “Thad” Thaddeus Foote III “feel good.”
Amid all the pomp and circumstance of his father’s inauguration as the University of Miami’s fourth president in 1981, “he found me in the crowd, made eye contact with me, and flashed me a little wave,” recalled Foote III. “It made me feel important and comfortable. It made me feel good.”
With stories, aphorisms, and music, the younger Foote, along with his older brother and sister, honored his late father, Edward Thaddeus “Tad” Foote II, who served as UM president from 1981 to 2001, on Tuesday at a memorial service held at Gusman Concert Hall on the Coral Gables campus.
“He cared deeply about making the world a better place,” said William Fulbright Foote. His father, he noted, was an accomplished folk singer and musician who was once offered a contract by RCA Records but turned it down, and used to transcribe old recordings of cowboy songs while he was a newspaper reporter. His life, he said, was filled with music right up until the end.
Foote passed away on February 15. He was 78.
“Music didn’t make the man. Dad loved making the music,” said William, occasionally singing verses from some of his father’s favorite songs.
In honor of Foote, the two sons, along with nephews Elijah Shaw and Nathan Tolliver-Shaw, performed “Angel Band.”
Julia Foote LeStage, Foote’s daughter, spoke lovingly of her father from a family perspective, noting that he raised her with the same standards he held for himself. “He always made me feel special,” she said.
Foote also never failed to acknowledge how important his wife, Roberta “Bosey” Fulbright Foote, who passed away last May, was to him. “His steady counselor” is how he often referred to her, said LeStage.
LeStage told the audience of more than 400 people that when a then-3-year-old Foote lost his own father, his mother told him he was the man of the house. “He wore the mantle of responsibility for the next 75 years of his life,” and that was evident in Foote’s ability to step up and lead in difficult times, said LeStage.
As UM’s fourth president, Foote significantly raised the academic and research stature of the school, spearheaded a capital fundraising campaign that was the second largest in the history of American higher education at the time, and instituted a series of other reforms that ranged from improved facilities to new academic programs.
“He set the bar high when it came to guiding this University with both authority and grace, always keeping the development and enrichment of our students as his top priority,” said current UM President Julio Frenk.
Foote’s first cousin, Adlai Hardin, said UM’s former president was “no stranger to complex and difficult tasks,” noting that in 1969 as an attorney in St. Louis, Missouri, Foote helped found the New City School, a private elementary school with a diverse student body.
Foote had an uncanny ability to speak off the cuff, Hardin said, recalling that the “remarkable man” he knew since they were little boys delivered, without any preparation, the keynote address at the eighth grade graduation ceremony for Hardin’s son.
Hardin also recalled Foote’s wit and sense of humor. In the summer of 1954, while traveling from Wyoming to Wisconsin in Foote’s Dodge coupe, the two decided to take shelter in an abandoned Nebraska farmhouse until a storm passed. As the storm raged outside, Hardin fell asleep but was suddenly jolted from his slumber by a loud noise. Foote had hurled one of his boots against the farmhouse wall—a practical joke that Hardin, he said laughingly, would eventually recover from. He was a “great friend and confidant of my entire lifetime. There was none better,” said Hardin.
UM Trustee Charles E. Cobb, Jr. said being a “leader of change” was one of the key qualities members of the then-search committee for the University’s fourth president wanted in a new presidential candidate, “and we certainly found that in Tad Foote.” Cobb, who served on that committee, noted Foote’s decision to decrease the student body and raise admission standards—a policy trustees were a bit reluctant to accept at first. But over time, Cobb said, that decision was the right one, as the average SAT score of incoming freshmen rose from 1072 to 1202 by the end of Foote’s administration.
Cobb also called Foote an “extraordinary leader in the broader community,” noting that he tackled Miami’s drug and crime problems head-on by creating the Miami Coalition for a Safe and Drug-Free Community, a broad-based task force that approached the community’s drug problems from every conceivable angle, such as establishing treatment programs, destroying crack houses, securing federal funding to strengthen law enforcement, and creating drug-free school zones.
A 10-minute video tribute, produced by UM’s Division of University Communications, provided the audience with further insight into the type of man Foote was.
“He was the No. 1 Hurricane,” Cyrus “Russ” Jollivette, who served as executive assistant to the president and vice president for government relations under Foote, said in the video tribute.
He was “ethical, hardworking, super smart, and always wanted UM to get better,” said Pat Whitely, who became vice president for student affairs during Foote’s administration.
“Distinguished” and “noble” is how former School of Architecture Dean Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk described Foote.
Former UM Provost Luis Glaser; former Senior Vice President for Business and Finance David Lieberman; Senior Trustees Ronald “Ron” Stone and David R. Weaver; and former Athletic Director Sam Jankovich are among others who appear in the video tribute.
In delivering a prayer at the end of Tuesday’s memorial service, Foote’s sister, Letitia Shields, said her brother was “guided by what he believed was right and moral, and through it all never sought glory for himself.”