Clare Russell Gregorian: This May 1997 photograph of Clare Gregorian was taken on Lincoln Field during a festive, campus-wide farewell celebration for her and Vartan Gregorian, her husband and Brown's 16th president. John Foresté

Date April 30, 2018
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Passages: Clare Russell Gregorian

Clare Russell Gregorian was a lifelong advocate and leader in education, literacy and women's issues who called the Brown campus home from 1988 to 1997.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Clare Russell Gregorian, a longtime community leader who called the Brown University campus home from 1988 to 1997 and was celebrated with a Brown honorary degree, died on Saturday, April 28, at age 80.

A lifelong advocate and leader in education, literacy and women's issues, and the wife of Brown President Emeritus Vartan Gregorian, she died at her home in New York City following a battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

In the nine years that her husband served as Brown's 16th president, Clare Gregorian was a leader in the campaign to launch Rhode Island Public Radio, where she was ultimately named an honorary chair. She was an active proponent for advancing literacy in local communities and worked extensively with the Providence Public Library and with Trinity Repertory Theater.

Through that work, she left an indelible mark on Providence and the broader Rhode Island community. In 1997, the Corporation of Brown University presented Gregorian with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, citing her efforts to support students during her nine years at Brown as well as her impact in the greater community.

"A generous spirit of expertise, unrelenting commitment and absolute candor have marked your efforts for such community projects as the Providence Public Library and Planned Parenthood, among others," the citation read. "These have reflected the intellectual vitality you have shared with all who have known you at Brown or elsewhere."

The citation also noted her combination of "taste, intelligence, realism and friendship in the things that matter to a great University."

A 1995 New York Times article recounts a rather memorable birthday surprise Gregorian arranged for her husband while he served as Brown president. After researching the University's early history, she learned that one of the earliest perks afforded to the president was "the right to graze livestock on the College Green..." the article reports. "So, Mrs. Gregorian arranged to have five sheep and seven lambs delivered to the green yesterday morning."

According to the story, Vartan Gregorian stepped out of University Hall and was greeted by the sheep and a rendition of "Happy Birthday to You" by the Brown band.

Brown trustee emerita and Class of 1964 graduate Marie J. Langlois told the Providence Journal on Sunday that all who were fortunate to be the recipients of Gregorian's friendship were touched by her warmth, humor and intellect.

"Clare arrived in Rhode Island and immediately challenged us to establish a public radio station and became one of the amazing group of Rhode Islanders who birthed Rhode Island Public Radio, having a permanent impact on our state," said Langlois, chair of the Rhode Island Foundation.

Gregorian was born in New York City and earned a bachelor of arts from Stanford University, where she majored in history. She is survived by her husband, who is now president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and their three sons and five grandchildren.