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Gregory Wolfe ’43

As the third president of Florida International University, Gregory guided its transition from a small, two-year school into a four-year university. During his seven-year tenure, FIU’s enrollment skyrocketed. He set the toughest freshman admission standards of any public university in Florida, added graduate programs, student housing, and the schools of engineering, nursing, journalism and mass communication. The Florida State Legislature named the Gregory Baker Wolfe University Center at FIU’s Biscayne Bay Campus in honor of Greg’s contribution to the university.

“Gregory brought a level of cosmopolitan, global vision of things but he was a realist at the same time. He was very good at turning the impossible into the inevitable,” said current FIU President Mark Rosenberg. “He was the one who convinced the Legislature and Board of Regents to allow FIU to have a robust graduate program offering. He is the father of a lot of our graduate programs. The Latin American and Caribbean Studies program took off largely because of his presence and his contacts in Washington — he was a Washington insider for a time — and that really helped us.”

“Greg brought a whole new tone to the university,” said FIU historian Tom Riley. “He looked like a movie star. He had the charisma of a John Kennedy and he was very bright. When he arrived there were great feelings of expectation of what he would do for the school — of which, he did a great deal.” 

By the time Gregory arrived at FIU, he had already served in World War II as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. State Department, and on the White House staffs of presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. From 1968–1974 he served as president of Portland State University.

In 1962, Gregory was invited to Washington, D.C. to assume the direction of the Latin American Program of the private Committee for Economic Development. Presidents Kennedy and Johnson asked him to serve as federal negotiator of the Interstate Compact Commission charged with planning, organizing and financing the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority. He concurrently served as the chief of the Department of State’s Intelligence Bureau for Latin America. In 1968, he departed federal service to become president of Portland State University.

Born in Los Angeles to Russian immigrants, he attended Los Angeles public schools before starting at Reed, where he majored in international studies and wrote his thesis, “The Colonial Problem: Changing Attitudes toward Backward Peoples,” with Prof. Charles McKinley [political science 1918–1960]. Following World War II service in the U.S. Naval Reserve, where he commanded an LST in the Western Pacific, he took MA and PhD degrees at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.

In addition to his 20 years in university administration, Gregory held teaching appointments on the faculties of Pomona College, the Claremont Graduate School, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Portland State University, American University, and Florida International. He was a Fulbright Lecturer in Ecuador and Visiting Scholar at Cambridge University, England. He received the Order of Civil Merit from the King of Spain for his role in creating a national Economic Study Center.

In 1988, he traveled to Central America and the Caribbean as director of a newly formed Center for Democratic Development, and in 1993 he was named chairman of the board of trustees for the International Fine Arts College in Miami.

In addition to his wife, Mary Ann, Gregory is survived by children Laura Ann, Gregory Nelson and Melissa Helene Wolfe; grandchildren Galen Nelson and Anna Wolfe Pauly and Marie Elise Wolfe-Callahan; and great-grandchild Ko Sugihara Pauly.

Appeared in Reed magazine: June 2016

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