The Passing of Bob Peck

Williams faculty and staff,

It is my sad duty to inform you that retired Director of Athletics Bob Peck passed away last Friday, October 15.

Bob ran our athletics program from 1971 to 2001, a time of enormous change at Williams. Most notably he oversaw the transformation of our athletics and physical education program from its historical focus on men only to a coeducational model, the development and upgrade of Williams College’s athletic facilities and the hiring of a dozen African American coaches during his tenure.

As in any history, Bob encountered challenges along the way. It took several years of student advocacy before he promoted women’s hockey to varsity status, for example. But his appreciation for the symbiosis of academic and athletic excellence became a Williams hallmark. One of his many notable hires and his successor as athletic director, Harry Sheehy, recalls, “Bob understood that athletics had the opportunity to be one of the very best classrooms on our campus. What we do isn’t academic by nature, but it is educational in nature. Bob thought about that with every coaching hire he made.”

That philosophy proved remarkably effective, as under Bob’s leadership Williams went on to win the first-ever Division III Directors’ Cup (then known as the Sears Cup) in 1996 and five of the first six. His Williams teams also won eight NCAA team championships starting in 1993 and led to our continuing, strong tradition of Academic All Stars.

Football Coach Dick Farley recalls Bob’s sense of integrity. “Bob was on the cutting edge of a lot of what NESCAC was doing,” Dick recalled. “He also ran a tight ship. I remember him saying: ‘As far as I’m concerned, you’ll never get fired for losing. But if you’re caught cheating, you’re right out the door.’”

Indeed, the strength of Williams coaching is another of Bob’s contributions. A number of the coaches he hired are still active, including Pete Farwell (cross country and men’s and women’s track), Pat Manning (women’s basketball), Bill Kangas (men’s hockey) and current Athletic Director Lisa Melendy. He also hired Sandra Burton, now Lipp Family Director of Dance and Senior Lecturer in Dance, at a time when dance was treated as part of our athletics programming. As Bob was known to say, “You just need to hire the smartest person: they’ll figure out how to do the job.”

Lisa Melendy remembers, “When I arrived, the halls were filled with future Coaches of the Year, Hall of Famers, legendary and beloved coaches who have positively shaped the lives of so many Williams alumni. And on a personal note, I have great admiration for Bob’s commitment to political activism in the pursuit of social justice for marginalized peoples.”

Bob was certainly unusual in his view of athletics as an avenue for social change. Raised in the Social Gospel tradition, he and his first wife, Jane Cary Chapman Peck, a theologian, were devoted to the movements for civil and human rights, affirmative action, peace and international understanding. He was likely the only athletic director ever to chain themselves to a fence during a protest or picket a post office for peace and justice. His and Jane Cary’s global interests also led to his teaching and coaching engagements in Finland, Sweden, Scotland, Columbia, Costa Rica, Italy, and Zimbabwe, among other countries.

The same passions later prompted Bob to advise on the creation of the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua. He led a group of Williams students there to help erect a campus building and created a well-known Winter Study that also trained students to prescribe and provide eyeglasses to people in remote areas of Nicaragua. Twenty years later that Winter Study continues, overseen by Mark Hopkins Professor of Philosophy Emeritus Alan White.

Bob Peck could be a study in contrasts: a pacifist ex-Marine and Korean War veteran; an old-school leader who oversaw the shift to coeducation; an athletics director who valued academic excellence over winning… and yet won anyway.

In 1999, the college named Weston Field’s Bob Peck Baseball Grandstand in honor of Bob’s work and philanthropic support. The grandstand, which had gone mostly unused since 1987, was renovated and relocated to the 50-yard line, and more recently to the finish line of the track: one more example of how Bob Peck helped Williams translate our athletics legacy into new and relevant forms. It is appropriate that his daughter Cary, who along with her siblings grew up in Lasell Gym and around our athletic campus, referred to Lasell as “Dad’s church.”

Bob’s survivors include his and Jane Cary’s children, Bob, Jim, Cary, and Jonathan; and grandchildren, Julien and Abigail Henriquez Peck, Collin Chapman Peck-Gray, Jameson Keegan, Arielle Theresa Keegan and Anderson Russell Keegan Peck, Joshua Michael DeCambre, Jonathan Russell Thanh and Wesley Chapman Danh Harris Peck. Jane Cary Peck predeceased Bob in 1990, as did his two brothers, James and William.

Bob is also survived by his longtime partner, Lynn Hood, and her children Janie Moyant Burke and John Karl Moyant; grandchildren Trevor, Riley and Griffin Burke and Olivia and Emily Moyant; and great-granddaughter Maebh Mitchell.

A memorial service will be held for family and close friends this week. A wider community celebration is being planned for next spring and will be announced if conditions allow.

In the meantime, please join me in keeping all of Bob Peck’s loved ones and many friends in our thoughts.