Ross Joseph Pritchard (1924–2020)
Ross Pritchard was a veteran of World War II, a Peace Corps worker, a teacher, a coach, and a longtime academic administrator at the collegiate level. During his long career, he served as the chief executive at three different institutions of higher learning, including Arkansas State University (ASU) in Jonesboro (Craighead County), where he was president from 1975 to 1978.
Ross Joseph Pritchard was born in Patterson, New Jersey, on September 3, 1924. He was the oldest of five children of Ross Winans Pritchard Jr., who was a pipe fitter, and Camille Beltramo, a native of France.
Shortly after graduating from high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. His military service during World War II was uneventful, but while serving, Pritchard played football and ran track for the base team. His coach was George Cole, who had been an assistant football coach for the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) before the war. Cole encouraged Pritchard to enroll at the university after he completed his military service, and Pritchard did just that in 1946. He lettered in football and track in 1946, 1947, 1948, and 1950. (He sat out the 1949 season with a broken leg.) After his college football career, Pritchard was drafted by the Washington Redskins of the National Football League (NFL) in the seventeenth round. Being the 168th overall pick, Pritchard decided his chances for a successful pro career unlikely, so he pursued other avenues.
While attending UA, Pritchard met future wife Emily Gregg. They would parent seven children, two of whom were adopted Iranians. They divorced in the mid-1980s. Pritchard was later married to Louise Dean.
After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science and history, Pritchard enrolled at Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, where he earned both a master’s and doctorate degree in international economics.
Pritchard took his first academic job as an instructor and football coach at Southwestern at Memphis (now Rhodes College) in Tennessee in 1955. Over the next few years, he became involved in several federal government programs. In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed him as the co-chairman of the Regional Export Expansion Committee. When his term expired, he was reappointed by President John F. Kennedy and served until 1962. From 1961 to 1962, he also served on Kennedy’s National Executive Committee on Foreign Aid. In 1962, he left Southwestern after approximately seven years to enter a U.S. congressional race in Tennessee. His initial entry into elective politics was in 1960, when he had successfully managed the Memphis mayoral campaign of brother-in-law Henry Loeb. However, his congressional campaign was not so successful. Pritchard, in a field of three, finished second, losing to long-term incumbent Clifford Davis by some 20,000 votes.
Shortly after his congressional defeat, Pritchard began a successful career in the Peace Corps. After a personal visit with President Kennedy in Memphis, he accepted the position of Special Assistant to the Director of the Peace Corps, Sargent Shriver. During his time in the Corps, he served as Director for Turkey and later Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific. Around 1968, he left the Corps and joined the Development and Resource Corporation, a private business operating in Iran. As manager of the firm, he oversaw the construction of hydroelectric power–producing dams.
After working in Iran for about four years, he returned to academia, accepting the presidency of Hood College in Maryland. When he assumed the office, the school was experiencing financial difficulties; due in part to his efforts, the college avoided bankruptcy.
In 1975, Pritchard was selected to replace Dr. Carl Reng as the fifth president of Arkansas State University. His association with ASU was turbulent, dating from his recruitment to the university. Some members of the Arkansas General Assembly expressed concerns about the fact that he was being paid as a consultant to ASU in the period between being hired by the board and taking office. More controversy concerned his requests for housing costs and improvements, a car for his wife, a liquor allowance, and tuition for his daughter to attend another school. Many of the supporters of the former president did not favor the hiring of Pritchard. In January 1975, the ASU board voted approval 4–1. However, the search committee, which had been conducting the presidential search for the past three years, voted 10–3 against his hiring.
He assumed the presidency in August 1975. While Pritchard is credited with making great efforts to recruit African American faculty members and students, his relationship with the student body was often tense. During his tenure, the student body erupted in a major dispute over the annual homecoming royalty elections in the fall of 1976. When Pritchard asked the ASU board for advice on how to defuse the situation, he was instructed to handle it himself. He then nullified the student election for the royalty due to the lack of African American representation. A new election was held in which a majority of the white student body refused to participate. Signs, instead of homecoming floats, marked the Reng Center lawn, declaring that homecoming was canceled due to Pritchard. The second election resulted in the university’s first all-Black homecoming court.
Pritchard had a tense relationship with the ASU board, with board member Dick Herget describing Pritchard as “abrasive and sometimes autocratic.” It was reported that many were opposed to Pritchard because they viewed him as a liberal Kennedy supporter and saw him as too personal with the students, with some claiming that he drank socially with students. Some were even concerned about his casual dress, which commonly included blue jeans. The tension with the state legislature also continued during his three years at ASU.
Even with all the controversy, Pritchard was credited with several successes, including the reorganization of the agriculture department, the establishment of the Institute of Technology Management, and the founding of the Arkansas State Center for Continuing Education. Pritchard was successful in raising several million unrestricted dollars for school development. Many felt that Pritchard had developed a more open campus where students and faculty were sought out for their input.
During the May 1977 board meeting, Pritchard announced that he would not seek renewal of his contract when it expired on June 30, 1978. Pritchard continued as ASU president for the next year but did not leave ASU quietly. In a May 1978 speech in Denver, Colorado, while pursuing the position of chancellor of Denver University, he stated that his job at ASU was made more difficult by a board that was “impossible to work with” and was controlled by “political IOUs.”
Pritchard was installed as the chancellor of Denver University shortly after leaving ASU in the summer of 1978. While at that university, he increased the endowment fund and student enrollment, reestablished the engineering school, and constructed the Driscoll University Center. However, by 1984, the university was experiencing severe financial difficulties. To combat the deficit, Pritchard made drastic cuts in the school’s athletic programs and announced that faculty and staff would receive no pay raises. Shortly afterward, the faculty presented a vote of no confidence in the chancellor to the board and requested Pritchard’s resignation. The school’s board of trustees, by a unanimous vote, removed Pritchard in 1984.
After his dismissal, Pritchard never worked a full-time job again, often working as a part-time fundraiser for various non-profits. He retired in Fayetteville, where he spent much of his time restoring his home, the Lafayette Gregg House, which had been added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
In 1997, he returned to Memphis and lived there in retirement for the next thirteen years before returning to Fayetteville in 2010. On July 8, 2020, Pritchard died from the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. His remains were cremated.
For additional information:
“ASU Is Paying Next President as a Consultant.” Arkansas Gazette, April 9, 1975, p. 3A.
Ball, Larry D., and William M. Clements. An Oral History of Arkansas State University. Jonesboro: Arkansas State University, 1984.
Bowden, Bill. “Pritchard, Former Peace Corps Official, Dies at 95.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 12, 2022, p. 2B. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2020/jul/12/pritchard-former-peace-corps-official-dies-at-95/ (accessed January 19, 2023).
Dumas, Ernest. “ASU’s New President and the Legislature.” Arkansas Gazette, August 17, 1975, p. 3E.
“He Won’t Seek New Contract, Pritchard Says.” Arkansas Gazette, May 15, 1977, pp. 1A, 2A.
“Political IOU’s Thwarted His Efforts, Pritchard Says.” Arkansas Gazette, May 19, 1978, pp. 1A, 2A.
CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas
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