The Colgate Scene
November 2000
Table of contents
More Than Just A Little
by Robert L. Tyburski '74

Wm. Brian Little 1942-2000
Commencement was the clear favorite among the hundreds of days that Wm. Brian Little '64 devoted to Colgate.

     Despite many business and family commitments, he found a way to attend 12 of the events during his 13 years of service as trustee and all five while chairman of the Board of Trustees. His affection for graduation provides more than just a little insight about what made this man so great for Colgate.

     Brian appreciated the elegance of the commencement ceremony as much as the beauty of the setting that drew him back to campus so often. His advocacy of the liberal arts was easy to understand as he enthusiastically donned cap and gown and joined the procession in step with the bagpipes, always with the image of the Torchlight ceremony around Taylor Lake fresh in his mind from the night before. He was particularly interested in what the speakers had to say each year and sought to learn something from every honorary degree recipient he met.

     Brian's view from the commencement platform provided him with a special opportunity to observe the strong feeling of achievement each graduate displayed. That energy and family cheers of pride warmed him as if they were for one of his own. This favorite event recognized four years of work by a dedicated faculty and staff he truly admired. Each year the theme of Campaign Colgate, which he chaired -- the "Promise of Leadership" -- was fulfilled again. And commencement confirmed the need to continue nurturing a lifetime of connections and commitments between these graduates and the college he loved.

     Brian no doubt let his mind wander while observing the many presidential handshakes and diploma presentations. But I'm certain he was using those moments either to think through important next action steps or, just as likely, to chuckle about a few undergraduate memories triggered by the Colgate spirit that rules those days. More than just a little, Brian knew how to balance pragmatism with the warm, fuzzy part of life.

Sad news
A thoughtful call from Paul Jones '64 brought me the sad news that Brian suffered cardiac arrest while jogging in Central Park. That tragic moment Sunday morning, September 17, 2000, remains impossible to imagine, let alone understand. An hour after the call I was in the back pew of the Chapel attending the memorial service for our ninth president, Everett Needham Case. The memories have been streaming through the minds of those whose lives Brian touched ever since, and they were especially vivid that day as those gathered connected his name, listed as a speaker for President Case's service, with the empty chair on stage.

     Everyone would be confident in trusting positive first impressions when meeting Brian. I had that experience in 1984 when he was in town with his wife Judy for the Class of '64's 20th reunion. Forstmann, Little and Company had just bought Dr. Pepper and was on the move. But, more than just a little, Brian was both impressive and approachable. Just as I noted his relaxed way as he danced to the music in the '64 tent that night, I am in awe of all that he accomplished during his next 16 years of involvement with Colgate.

     Soon after reunion, Brian joined The Campaign for Colgate's Major Gifts Committee, where his conscientious efforts to inspire leadership gifts became legendary. When he joined the Board of Trustees, Brian began touching all aspects of college life. Anyone who knew Brian Little knew that he was always busy, and while an important clue in solving the mystery of his greatness, I won't ever know how he succeeded in finding time for so many while completing every assignment so well.

     From service on The Special Committee on Residential Life to work with each of the trustee committees to his leadership of Campaign Colgate, Brian helped shape the course for Colgate's bright future. He was recognized with a Maroon Citation in 1989 and the Alumni Award for Distinguished Service in 1994. From his strong relationships with Presidents Barnett, Bartlett, Langdon, Grabois and Karelis, to frequent conversations with Duke Drake '41, Garry Bewkes '48 and Van Smith '50, his talented predecessors as chairman, to warm friendships with faculty and staff, Brian extended his contacts to the full spectrum of the Colgate community. He made sure Campaign Colgate exceeded its goal and was as diligent while leading the search for Colgate's 14th president, Buddy Karelis. Brian's staff confirmed that he devoted almost 40 percent of his time in 1999-2000 for Colgate, including two full weeks on the road and many other meetings and contacts with Buddy, to help him get to know those who could make a difference for the college.

     Brian's thirst for information and communication seemed insatiable and his use of voice-mail and fax kept everyone on the other end hopping between phone calls and meetings. Then came the fateful day, August 27, 1996, a month or so after Jim Manzi '73 led a trustee retreat about the uses of technology. My computer screen flagged a message that read, "First of all, I want you to know that this is my first e-mail message. Assuming it gets through to you, we might be able to declare that the board retreat re: technology had some modest beneficial effects on at least one trustee." More than just a little, the ways Brian could reach anyone and keep things moving now seemed endless.

     A college's dreams require resources. Through personal commitment, the support of those he influenced, and his tireless energy, Brian made sure that many of Colgate's dreams became realities in the 1990s.

     Carl Kreitler '62 called one day in 1992 to report that a surprise 50th birthday present was being organized for Brian. Gifts would be made to Colgate in Brian's honor, provided Brian could pick the designation. As Carl knew, that gift meant more to Brian than the contents of any wrapped box. Matching Brian's interest in fitness with a few pieces of exercise equipment was an easy step for Colgate to take for that birthday surprise, but Brian showed his skill at the Stairmaster a year later by advancing leadership support that expanded the program into the Wm. Brian Little Fitness Center.

Varied interests
Brian enjoyed photography and art just as much as a great game in Starr Rink or Andy Kerr Stadium. Any round of golf at Seven Oaks confirmed his competitive spirit and he always channeled that energy toward self-improvement and new experiences. I sensed his preparation for the reading of Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait for the orchestra's performance in the Chapel was as intense as it was for any negotiation during the prime of his business days.

     His personal support touched a wide spectrum of academic, athletic and extracurricular activities. A charter member of the James B. Colgate Society, which recognizes those whose lifetime contributions to Colgate total $1 million or more, Brian encouraged others to see the benefits the faculty and students would realize from leadership gifts. When Neil Grabois retired as Colgate's 13th president, Brian launched the "eNRGy Fund" and the initial goal of $2 million was doubled. In the successful ways Brian advanced Colgate, it seemed he did not know the extent to which people considered his efforts their inspiration.

     In 1997 the Campaign Colgate goal of $130 million was within reach with more than seven months to go, but we had been unsuccessful in identifying a lead donor for the art and art history building. A call from Brian one Sunday night confirmed his and Judy's intentions to help make that important dream a reality. That leadership commitment not only gave Colgate the confidence to construct Little Hall, it also triggered an incredible last year for Campaign Colgate that produced a final total of $158 million.

     Commencement 2001 will celebrate another class of students entering the "real world." On the same weekend, Colgate will also celebrate Brian's leadership and commitment with the formal dedication of Little Hall. While these two events won't be the same without him, Brian would no doubt encourage us to "Live true to the memory of the 13 men of yore." Just as surely, the 13 founders would consider it their good fortune if we thought of Wm. Brian Little '64 as a special 14th member.

     Shortly after Jerry Quill '60 heard the news about Brian, he sent me the following quote:

Work like you don't need the money,
Love like you have never been hurt,
Dance like nobody is watching.

     Like Brian, more than just a little.

Bob Tyburski is the vice president for university relations and a close friend of the Little family.
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