Media Relations
Dick and Patsy Couper with Bill Clinton
Dick and Patsy Couper with Bill Clinton, 2004

Richard W. Couper '44

Richard W. Couper, son of Esther W. and Edgar Williams Couper, President Emeritus of the New York Public Library and of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, died Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2006.

From 1971-1981 Couper served as the first full time Chief Executive Officer of the New York Public Library.  Despite the difficult economy of the 1970s, particularly as it affected New York City, working with colleagues and trustees Couper succeeded in a number of advances for the Library.  Among them:

  1. The first balanced budget since 1924.
  2. The completion of a new building for the Schomburg Collection.
  3. A substantial challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
  4. $10,000,000 from the Astor Foundation (Mrs. Vincent Astor).
  5. The introduction of compact shelving.
  6. The closing of the card catalog in favor of a computerized catalog (the first major library to do so).

In the more halcyon days of the 1980s, while President of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, again working with colleagues and trustees, Couper inaugurated a series of new programs all revolving about encouraging good students to become teachers and teachers to become better teachers.

Born in Binghamton, New York, Couper attended Binghamton schools and entered Hamilton College in 1940 as a member of the Class of 1944.  He spent three and a half years in the military, served overseas, and was separated with the rank of Captain, Army of the United States.  He returned to Hamilton and graduated in 1947 Phi Beta Kappa with honors in Greek and History.  In 1948 he received an M.A. degree from Harvard with a concentration in American history.

Returning to Binghamton from 1948-1962 Couper was associated with the firm of Nelson Wadsworth and Alexander and its successor firm Couper Ackerman Sampson, Inc.  In 1962 he responded to an invitation from his alma mater, Hamilton, to become its first administrative Vice President.  Subsequently, he served as Vice President, Acting President, Provost and Vice President.  In 1969 he became the first Deputy Commissioner of Higher Education of the New York Education Department.

During his lifetime Couper served as trustee or director of more than 60 organizations, profit and non-profit.  These included banks, a life insurance company, publishing companies and mutual funds.  Among his non-profit affiliations were trusteeship at Wesleyan University, trusteeship of the Episcopal Divinity School, and trusteeship of four foundations.  He was a charter trustee of the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education.  Also he was among the founding trustees of the Lincoln Center Institute, and of the New York Council on the Humanities.  In 1959 he became a trustee at Hamilton where he was serving as a life trustee at the time of his death, his service being one of the longest in the history of the College.

His relationship to his alma mater was unique.  He received both an A.B. and an LLD from Hamilton.  Active as a young alumnus he served on the Alumni Council and chaired the Alumni Fund.  In the 1960s he was an officer of the College and a member of the faculty.  He received the Alexander Hamilton Medal, and in 2004 was designated Volunteer of the Year.  Couper was the sixth generation of his family to attend Hamilton and 21 of his relatives graduated from the College.  He chaired the first ever Long Range Planning Committee of the Board of Trustees; the report of that committee resulted in Kirkland College.

A lifelong Episcopalian, Couper served on vestries of his parish churches.  Additionally, he was active in the national Episcopal Church as well as in the dioceses in which he lived.
Throughout his life Couper was an avid squash and tennis player.  His essential devotion was to his family.  In September 1946 he married Patricia Pogue of Cincinnati, who survives him, as does a sister, Katharine Watrous.  Also surviving are three children, Frederick, Thomas, and Margaret, plus four grandchildren.  A son, Barrett, predeceased him.