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Jon Westling ’64

January 15, 2021, in Boston, Massachusetts.

A motorcycle-riding scholar of medieval European history, Jon had a 46-year career at Boston University, spanning professor, administrator, and president of the university from 1996 to 2002. 

Born in Yakima, Washington, he flourished at Reed, where  he pursued an impressive range of interests. He majored in history and wrote his thesis, “Council under Edward IV,” with Prof. Richard Jones [history 1941–86]. He also worked part time as a DJ at a local country and western station under the radio name of Johnny West. “[The name] was regarded as so appropriate that when he left the job, they continued to use the name for his replacement,” recalls Prof. Robert Reynolds [physics 1963–2008], who knew Jon when they were both on the faculty at Reed. “He had a natural ‘radio voice.’”Jon also joined the Freedom Riders, and took part in a sit-in in Virginia in 1963 that earned him several days in jail. 

After graduating from Reed, Jon studied history at Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship. He taught at Centre College in Kentucky, UC Irvine, and UCLA, and at Reed from 1968 to 1971.

He came to Boston University in 1974 to produce films for the U.S. bicentennial. Though that project didn’t materialize, BU’s president took notice of the 32-year-old and drew him into his administration. Jon was named provost in 1984 and later became executive vice president and president.

As BU president, Jon worked tirelessly to make the university a world-class institution. He spearheaded the development of BioSquare, a $700 million research and business park in Boston designed to enhance collaboration between BU and the biomedical industry, and oversaw the 1996 creation of Boston Medical Center through the merger of Boston City Hospital and BU Medical Center. 

Jon is survived by his children, Emma, Matthew, and Andrew; his wife, Nicole; and his former wife, Elizabeth Westling.

Appeared in Reed magazine: June 2021

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