Butler faculty, students react to death of Dr. Bobby Fong
INDIANAPOLIS – People around the Butler University campus were shocked to hear the news Monday morning that the university’s former president, Dr. Bobby Fong, had died.
The 64-year-old spent a decade as Butler’s president before leaving for Ursinus College in 2011. Ursinus officials said Dr. Fong died of natural causes in his Collegeville, PA home Monday morning. His wife of 40 years, Suzanne was by his side.
“President Fong was a teacher and scholar before he became an academic administrator and he continued to be so even as a college president,” said Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean Lucien Terry Winegar. “He was an inspiring leader in higher education and had an unflinching commitment to liberal education. He was dedicated to Ursinus College and was so very proud of our faculty, students and staff. He had a long and distinguished career that included two presidencies, two deanships and a well-earned reputation for his scholarship. He will be missed, both on our campus and within higher education nationally.”
A Ursinus College spokesperson did not indicate Fong had been fighting a long-term illness, but declined to release any further information.
During his time at Butler, Bobby Fong became known as the right leader at the right time for the university. Former colleagues credit him with strengthening Butler’s finances and curriculum, as well as preparing Butler for future growth. He also helped prepare Butler for the national spotlight of back-to-back Final Four runs.
“He was a bit of a rock star, said Butler’s Director of External Relations, Michael Kaltenmark. “It’s interesting becuase that’s not really who he was. He wasn’t flashy or showy, but he was so endearing, so warm.”
Kaltenmark witnessed first hand the endearing popularity Fong enjoyed among students. As the “dad” handler of Butler’s Bulldog mascots, he has been in the middle of many celebrations, including the famous moment when Dr. Fong went crowd surfing.
“The first time we went to the Final Four he was running in the streets with our students,” Kaltenmark said. “And that’s the picture you see where he was crowd surfing and they lifted him up. I mean he was really well liked.”
Alex White, who is a 5th year Chemistry student, was in the middle of that celebration in 2010. He remembers helping to lift Dr. Fong into the air over cheers and high-fives.
“It’s great having a guy that wants to get involved with the excitement with the students and isn’t just there for a job, but really cares about the environment that the students have and wants to participate in it,” White said.
Butler Political Science Professor, Margaret Brabant told Fox59 Bobby Fong was someone who truly loved other people. She said it could be seen in his personality, and the way others responded to him.
“The Bobby Fong you saw in public was the Bobby Fong you saw in private,” Brabant said. “Consistent, loving, compassionate, and ethical to the core.”
Even after he left Butler, his friendships at the university continued. Brabant, who’s daughter is currently a freshman at Ursinus College, says she just saw Fong a few weeks ago.
“We went out to dinner, and I wanted to pay,” she said. “And Bobby said ‘Oh no Margaret, you’re paying my salary now.'”
Part of a statement released by Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard said:
“Bobby Fong was a well-respected scholar and a major part of the advancement of Butler University. Bobby was an avid baseball fan pulled from life’s starting lineup too soon.”
Ursinus College officials said information on his memorial and tributes to President Fong will be shared as it becomes available. Bobby Fong is also survived by two sons, Jonathan and Nicholas.