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George E. Vincent

President, Rockefeller Foundation

Centurion, 1918–1941

Full Name George Edgar Vincent

Born 24 March 1864 in Rockford, Illinois

Died 1 February 1941 in New York (Manhattan), New York

Buried Chestnut Hill Cemetery, Portville, New York

Proposed by John Huston Finley and Wallace Buttrick

Elected 4 May 1918 at age fifty-four

Century Memorial

Some months after George Edgar Vincent’s death his former associates in the Rockefeller Foundation brought together his family and intimate friends in a simple memorial service. Four men spoke briefly. Each had been associated with Mr. Vincent in one of the four major periods and fields of his career as educator and administrator. One spoke of him in connection with Chautauqua, one of his career from fellow in sociology to professor and dean of the faculties at the University of Chicago, one of his six years as president of the University of Minnesota and one of his leadership and presidency of the Rockefeller Foundation. But even the sum was not all of George Vincent, who worked in each field with modesty and high devotion, yet kept something that was his indefinable self free in spirit and above the day’s absorbing tasks.

Perhaps more people in the United States had heard Vincent as a public speaker than any other man not in political life. Unnumbered thousands from the days when just out of college he took his father’s place on the platform at Chautauqua to his last years recall the alert figure that sprang to the front of the rostrum and poured forth with machine-gun rapidity and precision a torrent of words that mingled wit and wisdom, tipped lightly with irony, and then ceased as you would have him go on.

But none of all this would have been possible without his ready wit and stored mind. No situation caught him without a quick and telling response, and woe to the presiding officer, the student or the faculty member who sought to fence with him, for there was no guard that was proof against his rapier-like thrusts. But he never meant to do more than pink an opponent and held in its sheath the double-edged sword of sarcasm. He was so instinctively the gentleman, so conscious of the noblesse oblige owed by a superior mind to the slower in thought or even the narrow-minded that he kept a tight rein on his ability to scarify even the thickest hide.

In 1911 he was elected to and accepted the presidency of the University of Minnesota. The choice was a happy one from the standpoint of the University, and the opportunity it opened to Mr. Vincent for the display of his fully matured powers and administrative ability was such a one as he might well have sought. In this position he spent six fruitful years. His labors extended the service of the University throughout the state, solidified it from a dozen colleges into a university with a faculty recruited wherever talent was found and devoted to their leader. All this was not done without a struggle and Mr. Vincent had his first taste of how an embittered minority in a great profession can strike out blindly when its entrenched position is threatened. He once said in his own whimsical way, “A university presidency is a benevolent despotism tempered by assassination.”

Then, in 1917, he was named president of the Rockefeller Foundation and for twelve years he was the commander of the best trained and most generously financed forces fighting the world-wide battle against disease. He marshalled and equipped his forces, the scientists, the doctors, sanitary engineers and nurses, and struck boldly at the enemy where he was most strongly entrenched. He rallied states and nations to join forces in a battle against a foe who, unseen himself, was exacting a fearful toll by death and disability from germ-bred diseases that lurked in filth, in swamp, in jungle, and leaped all barriers of mountain and ocean. He stepped up the attack when an opening had been made and poured an increasing stream of millions into the support of the home bases in the laboratories and at the disposal of the field forces that advanced their front in every land. There was never any letdown in the zest with which he carried the heavy responsibilities of chief of staff. There was an unflagging almost crusading spirit in the man who had ill-concealed impatience with crusaders. His true following and the only one he cared to lead were men who could catch his vision and keep his pace.

Geoffrey Parsons
1941 Century Memorials