New College of Florida and the New College Foundation are mourning the loss of retired Army Lt. Gen. Rolland V. Heiser, former president of the Foundation and a key figure in the College’s history. Heiser died on June 16, 2016, at the age of 91.
Former New College President Gordon Michalson, who worked closely with Heiser for a decade, said his friend “Ron” was a powerful and persuasive advocate for New College.
“Ron had a genius for opening up doors in our wider community for New College,” Michalson said. “His advocacy on behalf of the college won us many friends and brought countless people to our campus for the first time. He secured New College’s future.”
Heiser was president of the New College Foundation from June 1979 to April 2003, stepping in at a time when the future of the College’s fundraising organization was in doubt. In his first two years, he raised $6 million for the Foundation. In recognition of his efforts, students dedicated the 1979-80 yearbook to him.
Heiser had a distinguished 30-year Army career, serving in Korea, Vietnam and, among other posts, as chief of staff of the U.S. European Command in Germany under Gen. Alexander Haig, who later became U.S. secretary of state and White House chief of staff.
Many, including Michalson, wondered why a retired military officer would have such devotion for a campus known for liberal thinking.
“I asked him early on why he was such a strong advocate of the school,” Michalson said. “Without hesitation, he said it was because of New College’s emphasis on self-reliance and personal responsibility — he simply felt a deep connection to that central feature of our mission. He also loved our students and always enjoyed visiting with them, and he developed warm and long-lasting friendships with members of the faculty.”
During his tenure, Heiser established an endowment of more than $30 million, and brought more than $100 million to the New College campus. He also played a major role with the state legislature to make New College of Florida an independent institution within the State University System.
“I think Ron felt a strong sense of personal gratification when New College became independent in 2001,” Michalson said. “He was immensely moved by the change, since it was something he had hoped for over a long period of time. It was the only time I saw him cry.”
After retiring as president of the New College Foundation, he remained on the foundation board and served as a trustee emeritus until his death. New College’s Heiser Natural Sciences Complex, which houses teaching and research labs for chemistry, biochemistry, biology, bioinformatics, computational science, mathematics and physics, is named in his honor.
A funeral service was held at Toale Brothers Colonial Chapel, Sarasota, June 23, with burial in Sarasota National Cemetery.
Memorial donations may be made to the New College Foundation.