Philip H. Jordan, Jr.

philPhilip Jordan, teacher, perpetual student, college president and school head, a national leader in education, died on July 22, with his wife and two sons at his side. He was 91.

A year-round resident of Chebeague Island, off the coast of Maine, Philip Harding Jordan, Jr. was born on June 2, 1931, in New York City, where he grew up until his family moved to the Jersey shore. The son of Philip H. Jordan and Nancy Dennett Jordan, they gravitated naturally toward water, though Nancy continued an innate New Yorker, regularly returning the children to her dentist there. Once again, she steered her sons out of the New Jersey pine woods away to school.

"There was never an assignment I didn't like," Phil Jordan would say, graduating from the Lawrenceville School first in the class of 1950, summa from Princeton in philosophy in 1954, and with a PhD in American History from Yale in 1962. Without question, he wanted to become a teacher.

"Nothing is more gratifying than to be present when the spark jumps the gap and the light goes on," Jordan put it, speaking of the student. First at Yale, when a graduate instructor, he taught in his field Early American History, the founding period, then at Connecticut College, expanding also to other areas. Winner of a teaching prize, it was his gift. Yet there were other latent and unexpected gifts, more remarkable perhaps.

Administration tapped Jordan. "Not to look for the job is the best way to get it," he advised aspirants. At Connecticut College, Jordan was first named Associate Dean, then Dean of Faculty, 1969-75, all the while remaining in the classroom. He continued to teach after he was chosen President of Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio in 1975. Kenyon was love at first sight, and he held the college in trust until 1995—twenty years.

Humanist, small college liberal arts professor, Jordan learned the multifarious art of leading an academic institution. And he was apt. Mentored by a strong board of leaders, primarily middle-western stalwarts, his talent grew and flourished in countless directions. Best remembered for his laugh, ringing forth so readily, he was at home among colleagues and students on campus and effective in Ohio and national educational associations. Notably, Jordan served as chair of the American Council of Education and headed the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities for a stint. He best spoke of his work using the Taoist phrase: " And the people said we did it." Over his long tenure, while sustaining the college, Jordan's accomplishments were rife, among them reviving the Kenyon Review, enabling women to thrive on a once all-male campus. Upon his retirement from Kenyon, a chair in Environmental Studies was named in his honor and that of his wife, signifying his devotion to place and community. The college awarded honorary degrees to each of them as well.

Called to serve as Headmaster, Phil Jordan went directly from Kenyon to the Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. His second birthplace, it was a mission of gratitude, loyalty, and love. In a large sense, he had never left the school. It was there, never finished, he learned to learn, discovering who he was and was to become. Emilie Kosoft, Lawrenceville's present Dean of Faculty, upon hearing of Jordan's death from his son Phil, notified her colleagues as follows:

It is with a heavy heart that I share the news that Phil Jordan's father passed away peacefully yesterday morning. Dr. Philip H. Jordan, Jr. '50  H'61  H'96  P'85  P'90  GP'24 was a trustee, trustee emeritus, and the tenth Headmaster of Lawrenceville. Phil was a Lawrenceville lion known for his bright smile, kindness, and genuine love for this community.

Jordan himself said of the school: "What I feel—and what both of my sons have said themselves—is that Lawrenceville is the most important part of my education." Headmaster for the year 1995-96, it was an active one: choosing a new Headmaster, living side by side with students, establishing the Merrill Memorial Poetry Seminar, exploring the religious life of the school. Time for a breather, at least Phil's wife, Sheila, thought.

But Phil Jordan didn't retire. Returning to private life in Ohio, he managed to chair a board of a bank and firmly established the Brown Family Environmental Center. Hither and yon, his educational endeavors continued. A sidebar to these included a year, 2005-06, at Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire, where, a trustee, he was persuaded to become Interim President. There in his "retirement" in his mid-seventies, he scrambled up the granite side of a mountain on Mountain Day. Upon his departure, Jordan received an honorary degree.

Phil Jordan’s was a journey into retirement. His final move was to Chebeague Island in Casco Bay off Portland, Maine in 2000. Encircled by water to be crossed by ferry, improbable for him, Phil went on, engaged in the affairs of the small island community—notably realizing with others the Chebeague Island Historical Society Museum, stewarding once again the environment, and teaching small history seminars. Making his way to the mainland, Portland and beyond, the cultural life of the city—art, theater, music fully involved him. Jordan's signal contribution was to chair the board of the Maine Historical Society during its library expansion. Building was familiar ground for this past college president, as indeed was the island.

A constant in Jordan's life, Chebeague had long been the family’s retreat and home, primarily in summer, though they had visited Sheila's parents, the Grays, off-season. Giving over the unheated, 1870's summer house to the children, choosing to live on the island year-round, Phil and Sheila settled into a new house designed for quiet. Set apart, amid tall pines, overlooking the water, it reflected Phil’s early experience on the Jersey shore. Fall, winter, and spring, in their two studies, his for ongoing work, an ever-growing stock of books, music—the daily crossword puzzle—hers for poetry, faithfully supported by Phil, member of a sustained poetry study group, the two savored calm and the rhythms of the island community. Come summer, with the arrival of the family, all would wake up. For twenty-two years this was Phil's world. His companion was Sheila, sixty-six years his life partner—they spoke of the Kenyon days as a "Mom and Pop operation." Together their strengths complimented one another.

Phil Jordan had time, fully given to the true and dearest purpose of his being, the family: Philip and John, his sons and their wives, Jing and Catarina; Adrian, John, David, Catarina, Lucia, and Ana, his grandchildren. He also leaves his sister-in-law Paula Jordan, his brother-in-law Garland Gray and his wife Briana. Summing up his life, as he would close a meeting, Phil pronounced it: "So very fortunate." Gifts may be given in his memory to the Lawrenceville School, Kenyon College, and the Chebeague Island Historical Society. Gatherings are planned on the island before the end of summer and in the fall at the Lawrenceville School.

phil on beach