Robert J. Bruce – Penobscot Bay Press

EDGMONT TOWNSHIP, PA. and CASTINE, MAINE – Robert (Bob) James Bruce, 86, of Edgmont Township, Pa., president emeritus of Widener University, died Friday, April 19, 2024, of heart failure. He left a profound legacy in higher education and a variety of philanthropic causes in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Mr. Bruce grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, and attended Colby College in Waterville, Maine. It was there where he met the love of his life, Judith (Garland) Bruce, his wife of 60 years, who predeceased him in 2019. Their love of Maine continued, with the family spending summers at their home in Castine for more than 30 years. .

Bob began his journey in education after earning a master’s degree from the University of Massachusetts and teaching history. In 1964 he spent a year in Great Britain with his family as a Fulbright Scholar. He then began a 40-year career in higher education, starting at Colby College. He became vice president for development at Bard College, later was named acting president and subsequently received the Bard Medal. He then spent time at Clark University. The highlight of his career was spent at Widener University, where he worked for 25 years, the last twenty of which he served as the institution’s eighth president, from 1981 until his retirement in 2001.

Under Bruce’s leadership, Widener (formerly Pennsylvania Military College) grew from a small, regional college to a comprehensive university. He instituted dramatic changes, including the creation of a traditional university structure with six schools and colleges that grew out of existing programs, and the addition of master’s and doctoral programs in many disciplines, including the creation of the School of Law. In recognition of his efforts, Widener awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1992. After his retirement in 2001 he wrote the book Acting on Promise, Reflections from a University President.

Bruce served two terms as president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania, served as president of the National Association of the Independent Colleges and Universities and served on the NCAA Presidents Commission.

Bruce was extremely impressive and generous with his time in philanthropic endeavors. A former board member of the Crozer-Keystone Health System and former board chairman of Crozer Chester Medical Center, he helped architect The Foundation for Delaware County; with more than $70 million in assets, it is today the largest philanthropic organization in Delaware County. He served on the Foundation’s board of directors and received the organization’s Founder Award in 2022.

Bruce had a great passion for his Scottish heritage and was a long-time member of the St. Andrew’s Society of Philadelphia, where he served on the Board of Directors and Board of Trustees. He was also a member of the Society’s Scholarship Committee and chairman of the Development Committee.

Bruce was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1937 to Andrew Carson Bruce and Ruth Lillian (Barr) Bruce and is survived by his sister Dorothy (Bruce) Willis. He was exceptionally proud of his family, survived by his son Scott G. Bruce (Gigi) and daughter Kimberley (Bruce) Campbell (Chris). He had seven grandchildren, Kathryn (Campbell) Hoge (Fred), Sarah (Bruce) Cantley (Will), Andrew Garland Bruce (Dec) (Alex), Elizabeth Bruce Campbell (Dec), Courtney Stuart Campbell (Travis), Gillian Graham Bruce and Douglas Bruce Campbell. He is also survived by eight great-grandchildren: Lucy, Claire, Kate, Caroline, Freddy, Charlotte, Maggie and Ellie.

There are no words to describe the impact Bob had on so many people throughout his life. He was an eternally cheerful, curious, caring person with seemingly boundless energy. He led a rich life, of which his family is extremely proud.

A memorial service was held at 11 a.m. on Thursday, May 2, 2024, at St. Francis-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church in Malvern, Pennsylvania.

Donations in his name may be made to the Robert J. Bruce and Judith G. Bruce Endowed Scholarship Fund, Colby College, Office of Advancement, 4000 Mayflower Hill Drive, Waterville, ME 04901; or to The Foundation for Delaware County, 200 East State Street, Suite 304, Media, PA 19063.