John Remington

Alumnus, Trustee

John Remington

21 minutes
Jack A. End
Interview/Event Date: 
ca. 1971
Biographical note: 

John W. Remington was a member of the class of 1917. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1921 and soon began working at the Lincoln Rochester Trust Company. In 1954 he was named president of Lincoln Rochester. After retirement in 1963 he became a partner in the law firm of Nixon, Hargrave, Devans and Doyle. He served the University as an alumni trustee from 1953-55 and in 1961 was elected to the Board. In 1971 he received a University Alumni Citation, and an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University in 1960.

Please note:

The views expressed in the recordings and transcripts on this website are those of the speakers, and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, the University of Rochester.
All rights reserved. Copyright 2019.

JE: Mr. Remington, you graduated from the University of Rochester in 1917[1][That's right.] and you've been associated with the school in one way or another ever since. There have been many changes here since your school days. What were some of them that you think are the most important?

JR: Well, I feel the added facilities that the University has, both from a viewpoint of teaching and the viewpoint of activities. In our day, of course, classes were very small. My Class of '17, a few of us left early and went into the Second World War – er the First World War [laughs]. And and we were graduated in absentia. We did have close contact with our professors, which was one of the great advantages of those days.

JE: You remember any of those in particular?

JR: Oh yes, oh yes. Sure.

JE: That impressed you or –

JR: Yes. Dean Arthur Gale[2] and . . . John Slater, Dr. John Slater[3]. And then probably the two that I had more contact with are Dexter Perkins[4] and Laurence Packard[5] in the History Department. Because I took practically all courses that were available in the History Department and also some of the special seminars that we had in connection with history. And we did have a very close contact with – due to the few numbers, because our Class of '17 were only about...not – somewhere between sixty and seventy-five men[6] and, tod . . . [laughs]

JE: That's different from today, isn't it. [laughs]

JR: And today they're only, well – less than half of those are alive. But we did have a – it was a great, a great small university or college, it was ... it was called the "University" at the time because we did we did have engineering. They did have a good Chemistry Department and a good, excellent Biology Department, but then it was the it was an arts and science college almost exclusively with – other than the engineering.

JE: Well, let's go ahead a few years. You were one of the first alumni elected members of the Board of Trustees of the University, in fact I think you were the first, weren't you[7]?

JR: No, I think there was one class ahead of us, as I recall it. One group of three; I think at that time there were three elected.

JE: So that you were one of three in the second –

JR: And I think I – and then the second the second time.

JE: Was there any distinction made between you and the regularly elect-elected members?

JR: Very little. They, allowed us to make suggestions and comments and – we, of course, I think, were disinclined to advance our ideas quite as fully as you might as a as a regular trustee in in the beginning, but I think that that difference, soon was rather . . . unimportant.

JE: So that when you were subsequently elected a regular member of the Board, you didn't have any different feelings about –

JR: No. No, it was it was really no tr– it was very easy transition, I would say. [laughs]

JE: [laughs] And you've always been interested in alumni affairs at the University and in fact you were once the President of the University Associated Alumni.

JR: Yes, I'd forgotten what year that was; I don't know when I guess it was maybe in the fif – sometime in the fifties[8].

JE: Yeah. Why do you think alumni support, both in contribution and spokesmanship for the University, is important? After all, even though our alumni are most generous their contributions in numbers of dollars is a rather small percentage of the total amount given by others such as corporations, foundations, government, and so on.

JR: Well I think, Jack, that the the most important thing about alumni contributions is to show that we have great faith in the the ability of our University to do an excellent job in the teaching field and prepare young people. And if we who had the opportunities of going to the University of Rochester do not speak up and are not willing to lead in campaigns to raise funds or in other efforts in connection with the University and show a deep interest in it,we can hardly expect that other people will become as enthusiastic as we would like them to... to help the University in many ways. If you're if you're not willing to do that yourself as a graduate of the of the University, you can't expect you can't expect people who haven't had that opportunity of knowing it intimately to do a great deal. I think that's a main... a main thing in... – showing your your deep interest in the University and you feel that is – it is growing in strength and you feel that it is going places, that it's meeting a need in the community of Rochester and in the larger community.

JE: Well, that leads me to the next question. You've been outstanding in your many and various community projects[9], and are therefore much aware of the feelings of the city in regard to the University. From your experience, do you think that in general there is a good relationship between the University and the community of Rochester?

JR: Well, I think that there's a very good relationship. And I th-...I often hear men speak who are leaders in the community either in industrial life or in some other phases of of the city's development speak of how valuable the University is in training young people and in training the la- ... a great many people who are taking either graduate work here or taking courses in the evening, in the – it's now called the University School or what is it – Is it the University School[10]?

JE: Yeah.

JR: This is a subject that I often hear referred to by men when they're when they're talking about colleges and when they're talking about the University of Rochester.

JE: You think that there could be more done, in – either by the University or by the community to even improve our good –

JR: Well, I presume there's always a an opportunity of doing more –

JE: I guess I'm pinning you down –

JR: – but I... but I don't – I can't think of [laughs] specifics; I think it's the type of work that has to go on regularly, systematically, and try to touch all bases in connection with the... the life of the community here, both from an industrial, banking – and other phases of the – of our business life in the city.

JE: In 1969, you were a member of the Board of Trustees Committee on Trustee Relations. What were the specific functions of this committee and what were its conclusions?

JR: Well, I think that we all set forth [laughs] in our . . .

JE: Well, I know there was a brochure you put out.

JR: Our report, in our report, in our our brochure that we put out; a great deal of thought was given to that, and you – I think you're probably familiar with the many, many hours that Clarence Wynd[11] and others – particularly Clarence he was chairman of committee – devoted to interviewing people connected with the University, to find out what suggestions they had that might be incorporated in the... that report. . . . it's obvious that . . . people could not cannot completely agree on all of the little details involved, but I believe that sets forth at least the underlying principles which in the relationships between the trustees and the students, the faculty, the administration and indicates their particular places, and... and the manner in which those can best function. I, I think my reference would be to to our final doc-document, [laughs] as the best expression of what that was[12] but it was a very cooperative effort and I think that the trustees learned a great deal, as I hope that others who sat in on those meetings and expressed themselves very, very fully, very frankly, and naturally it wasn't complete agreement on in the beginning but usually when things were worked out to conclusions which seem pretty logical.

JE: So, the final report was pretty much a a compendium of –

JR: A compendium of the feelings of all of them, as, of course, finally put together by the by the committee. And there was a good many meetings held and [laughs] in connection with with a particular language that was used at the end, the thoughts that were given in shaping that report.

JE: Well, certainly it was a great contribution; I think it was a document that's going to have a lasting influence on the University.

JR: Well, and with the growth of the University, you have to stop every once in a while and review the situations and that was one of the one of the things that was done here, was stopping, looking, interviewing, getting thoughts of others, trying to get the whole University community, thinking about the problems, and then gathering those together and coming out with a consensus that would be valuable for the future growth and and the planning of the University.

JE: The cost of operating institutions of higher learning are constantly rising. And there seems to be no end in sight.

JR: That's true.

JE: What do you think the outcome will be; is there a solution?

JR:. . . Well, that's... that's a pretty that's a pretty tough question. I, [laughs] I hope that we can . . . through . . . gifts, endowment funds, legacies, large gifts and, of course, a combination of many, many thousands of smaller ones, that we can do this without having to turn to the State or the government for too much of the support. Now we're gar- we're getting a certain amount of support in spe-... in specialized fields, the dormitories, one of the best ones but of course that is – that's put on a pay-as-you-go basis. And those dormitory bonds will be retired, that are ... that are used in the financing of the dormitories will be retired in due course over a long span of years. There there may be that we have to look more to government than we have in the past. But I a- I'm particularly hopeful that the private institutions can continue to finance their way the as the University of Rochester has in the past.

JE: You would rather not have state and federal aid –

JR: Yes, I –

JE: – as a major...

JR: Yes, except in the specialized fields, in many of the scientific ones, which which I'm not too familiar; I was an art student. But I do know that those things are very expensive. First the medical... the medical end is costs of fell forward. But that is a great thing for our community, that is.

JE: Why do you feel that state or federal aid is, as far as the arts and sciences wouldn't be a good thing?

JR: Well, I . . . I don't know; it may be just... just . . . feeling that we're a little –

JE: Well, you've always been an independent man, I think. [laughs]

JR: We're a little – now we're a little less flattered that we have... we have our independence a little more fully and that we can shape our programs without too much reference to state and federal government. But the trend is greatly towards the financing because of these heavy, heavy costs, so that all the people share in it and not just those that are... small givers or donors of substantial funds to the Uni-... to a university.

JE: In a speech you made in 1960 at the University of Rochester School of Business Administration[13], you said, quote, "Better and larger educational facilities are needed here and in other lands to produce the leadership required in underdeveloped countries. This training of young people on whom the Free World must depend is essential and the cost thereof must be provided. This is insurance for which we should gladly pay the premium." Unquote. Now, in 1971, do you think that education in this country has lived up to this obligation?

JR: Well, I think it's made strong efforts to do so, and may not have completely lived up to it. I'm not too familiar with the international scene. I read about it in ... periodicals and so forth, but– there's probably a lot more needs to be done and and that's, that's an area in which I feel that government, particularly federal government, should... should give the institutions aid, financial aid, in order to do the things that are necessary, because that affects the well-being of everybody. There's, there's nothing local about that, that's a [sic] international, a world... a world situation. It's this world situation that we're in today is a very puzzling one and I just don't [laughs] feel I have knowledge and the competence and the background to comment too much on . . .

JE: Well, Mr. Remington, do you still waterski[14]?

JR: No, my... I haven't –

JE: When did you quit?

JR: Last year. Well, last year was the first time I haven't skied. And I was away most of –

JE: And you were –

JR: – the summer, I was abroad.

JE: At what age then, seventy-four?

JR: Seventy – seventy-three, I think.

JE: Seventy-three. [laughs]

JR: I don't ski at seventy-four. I may ski at seventy-five but I don't know. [laughs]But I the last few years it's only been once or twice during the season. I can still get up on the skis. [laughs]

JE: [laughs] Better than I can do. What do you think about the sports program here?

JR: Well, I've been very pleased with it. We've we've had fine basketball teams traditionally for - back in my day we used to play the the best colleges in the East; we used to have no difficulty defeating Yale and Columbia and Pennsylvania and some of the fine basketball teams. And that was our number one sport. Football was... was we were a small small college contestant. But... – and this – the others grew. Why, we we no longer were competitors with those – the teams that I've just mentioned. Now I don't feel that we should try to get back into big-time football or basketball or or the other sports. But I think the work that's been done here by... by Dewey[15] and the, and the football coach, Bob Stark[16]have been really outstanding and I think that this is a great thing for the University because it brings the University to the attention of many more people. I'm sure the program is good for the for the the boys that are competing. That's very – I've always been a great advocate of athletics, and now I'm pretty much resigned to golf. But I have played indoor baseball even until recently also to a very limi-limited extent, as we have a ball team in our law firm. But. . . I think it would be a mistake for us not to continue to find good athletic program, including colleges of our size, as we're doing.

JE: You feel it balances right.

JR: I think the balance is right; I think we're playing the right institutions and we've had... this year our record wasn't quite as good as last year but it was very satisfactory, and a lot of these men or boys, will learn a great deal from sport and being under the leadership of men like William Stark.

JE: Thank you, Mr. Remington.

[recording ends]

Transcript by Eileen L. Fay (February 2014)

[1] John Remington's four brothers also went to the University of Rochester: William B. '11, Thomas H. '11, Harvey F. '17, and Franklin K. 23. He also had two cousins at the University: E. Potter Remington '14 and Frederick Remington '16.

[2] Dr. Arthur S. Gale was a professor of mathematics who arrived at the University in 1905. He became head of the department the following year. He served as Dean of Freshmen in the College for Men from 1921 to 1936, then Dean of the College for Men from 1936 to 1940. He retired in 1945 as professor emeritus. Gale is remembered for creating Freshmen Week. His son Marland was a member of the Class of 1922. (source: obituary in Rochester Times-Union, July 7, 1964)

[3] Dr. John Rothwell Slater was a popular English professor who came to UR in 1905 and became head of the department in 1908, a post he held until his 1942 retirement. He also wrote the inscriptions found throughout Rush Rhees Library and played the chimes in the tower (predecessor to the carillon). His papers are available in Special Collections.

[4] Dr. Dexter Perkins was Professor and Chairman of the Department of History from 1916 to 1953. He was a nationally prominent authority on American history. He moved to Cornell in 1954. He also did an Oral History interview.

[5] Dr. Laurence B. Packard came to the University in 1913 as a specialist in European history. He was especially famous for the course on the evolution of Western Civilization he introduced. He moved to Amherst in 1925.

[6] The Class of 1917, by their senior year, had 37 men and 34 women. (source: 1916-17 Annual Catalogue)

[7] At the request of alumni, the Board of Trustees voted in 1952 to allow alumni to choose three trustees to serve for a maximum of three years. Besides Remington, the other two alumni voted in were Josephine Booth Hale '17 and E. William Dennis '10. All three resided in Rochester.

[8] Remington was Vice-President of the Associated Alumni in 1946 and then President in 1947.

[9] Outside the University, Remington's other associations and activities included the American Bankers Association (in which he served as President), the Board of Visitors of Geneseo State Teachers College, the Rochester Community Chest (the predecessor of the United Way of Greater Rochester), the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Rochester Friendly Home, the Harvard Club of Rochester, and the Advisory Council of Banking Law Section of the New York State Bar Association. He was also a member of the Board of Trustees at Keuka College (1940s), the Genesee Valley Club, the Country Club of Rochester, the Merit Award Committee of the Real Estate Board of Rochester, and the Doty-Magill Post American Legion. In 1958 he was elected director of the Gannett Foundation. Remington was named winner of the Rochester Rotary Club Award in 1960 for exemplifying "Service Above Self" and the following year was awarded an honorary life membership in the Junior Chamber of Commerce for his contributions to the organization. (source: alumni file)

[10] The University of Rochester first organized extension classes in 1916 for non-traditional students, particularly working adults. In 1942 the trustees authorized the Division of University Extension to offer programs leading to its own degree. The division was reorganized as the University School of Liberal and Applied Studies two years later. By 1971, the time of this interview, the University School offered part-time students a Bachelor of Science with a major in General Studies, as well as pre-professional programs for students who wished to receive a bachelor's from the any of the Colleges, the Department of Nursing, or the School of Medicine and Dentistry. (source: University School Official Bulletin for 1970-71) Its name was changed to the University College of Liberal and Applied Studies in 1972.

[11] Clarence Wynd was an Eastman Kodak executive who was a member of the Board of Trustees from 1964-19XX. He also served on the Medical Center Visiting Committee and the Board of Overseers of Strong Memorial Hospital. Both he and his wife Alice have also done an Oral History Interview.

[12] The report of the Committee on Trustee Relations" is considered to be a classic description of the role of the university trustee and has come to be known as the ‘Wynd report.'" In Wynd's own words: "Well, I think [the committee] sought to find a better understanding of the duties and functions of the trustee." (source: Wynd's Oral History Interview)

[13] "The Role of the Financial Community in the Preservation of International Peace," made October 13, 1960 at the Fall Assembly of the School of Business Administration. The Assembly was held in conjunction with the three-day Convocation ,"Perspectives on Peace," presented in observance of the 50th anniversary of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. (source: Remington's PR file; speech is available as a published booklet)

[14] There is a picture of Mr. Remington waterskiing in a 1959 article in his alumni file, "Meet President Remington." (Publication unidentified.)

[15] Robert J. Dewey was appointed Director of Athletics and Chairman of the Department of Physical Education at the University of Rochester in 1966, succeeding Louis A. Alexander (who has also done an Oral History Interview). He made numerous upgrades to the program, especially to football. He was fired in 1973 over "philosophical differences" with the University administration, although he maintained tenure as a professor of physical education. (source: articles in PR file)

[16] Peter G. "Pat" Stark. He was one of Dewey's key appointments. Stark was Head Football Coach at the University from 1969 to 1984, winning over sixty games – including twelve consecutive ones, still a school record – and earning the Section I Coach of the Year in 1970. He is in the University of Rochester Athletic Hall of Fame. (source: