Published 01/24/18

Bryant President Emeritus William T. O’Hara '90H leaves outstanding legacy

Bryant University recently lost a distinguished educator and inspirational leader. President Emeritus William T. (Bill) O’Hara '90H passed away peacefully at his Wakefield, RI, home on January 16, comforted by his wife, Barbara (Bobbi) Schmickel O’Hara. (They would have celebrated their 50 th wedding anniversary this coming July.) Dr. O’Hara served as Bryant’s fifth president and Professor of Management from 1976-89.

Below is a brief biography along with information about plans to honor Bill’s outstanding legacy.

Bill O’Hara was born in New Haven, CT, on September 3, 1932. He received a bachelor’s degree from Trinity College and law degrees from Georgetown University and New York University. He also held honorary doctoral degrees from Mount Saint Mary College, Providence College, Roger Williams University, Johnson & Wales University, and Bryant College.



Beginning a law career in Washington, D.C., Bill served as a clerk for Federal Judge Joseph C. McGarraghy, then as a trial attorney for the Public Defender’s Office in US District Court, and later as counsel to the Postsecondary Education Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives (Committee on Education and Labor). While in Washington, he also taught constitutional and criminal law at American University. It was there that he discovered his passion for teaching.

A talented mediator

From Washington, Bill moved into academia holding a progressive succession of positions at University of Connecticut campuses including the School of Law. In 1972, Dr. O’Hara became president and Professor of Constitutional Law at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, NY. During his presidency there, he also served as mediator and arbitrator for the American Arbitration Association. He left Newburgh in 1976 to become President and Professor of Management at Bryant College.

Bill was a talented mediator, shepherding the college through many changes during a turbulent period in higher education. He made student concerns a high priority and supported faculty who wanted greater involvement in how things were done. Together, Bill and Bobbi did much to create an increased sense of community for all members of the Bryant community by letting it be known that each person’s contribution was essential to the future success of the College.

Dr. O’Hara had extensive experience in strategic planning, and early in his presidency he formed a committee dedicated to long-term planning to define Bryant’s mission and progress toward transformational goals. Aligned with the emerging needs of industry and society, under Dr. O’Hara’s leadership Bryant sought opportunities that offered distinctive real-world experiences, empowered by global perspectives and new ways of thinking and learning. During his tenure the college began to enhance its liberal arts curriculum and expand non-credit business programs, to offer a Master of Science in Taxation, and to develop its first international strategic plan. During the O’Hara presidency the RI Small Business Development Center was established and new facilities were added including the Multipurpose Activity Center (1981), the Bryant Center (1986, now known as Michael E. ’67 and Karen L. Fisher Student Center), and rededication of the Koffler Center as a computer center (1987).

Committed to "practical wisdom"

Dr. O’Hara came to be known as a change-agent committed to “practical wisdom.” Former Bryant Professor William P. Haas may have summarized it best in 1989: “Education for Business Leadership was nurtured by Bill O’Hara…we  have enjoyed 13 years of growth, increased self-confidence, a profound cohesiveness, and a unity of purpose and vision. More than bricks and mortar, volumes in the library, academic programs, and balanced budgets, these are Bill O’Hara’s real contributions.”

Dr. O’Hara chose to step aside as Bryant’s president in 1989. But there would never be “retirement” in his life plan. The Board of Trustees named him President Emeritus, Henry Loeb Jacobs Professor, and founding Executive Director of The Institute for Family Enterprise at Bryant. In this role Bill taught, consulted, and wrote extensively on preserving and perpetuating family-owned businesses, business ethics, corporate governance, negotiation and conflict resolution. He later served as Executive Ethics Officer at Roger Williams Medical Center.

Throughout Bill’s life, he exhibited a strong commitment to community service. This included memberships on the boards of trustees at Trinity College, Roger Williams University, Citizen’s Bank, the New England Board of Higher Education, the NCAA Presidents Commission, and Home and Hospice of Rhode Island. In addition, he served as chairman of Leadership Rhode Island, head of the Governor’s Ethics Task Force, charter chairman of the Rhode Island Independent Higher Education Association, chair of Citizens Community Foundation, board member of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, and charter president of the Northeast Ten Athletic Association. The President Emeritus was also a consultant on trustee governance for the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.

Bill read at least five papers a day and was never without a topic for conversation or the curiosity to research a new found interest. His books include John F. Kennedy on Education; The Student/The College/The Law; and Centuries of Success: Lessons from the World’s Most Enduring Family Businesses. Bobbi O’Hara was a dedicated research partner as they traveled worldwide to gather information for these publications.

We are deeply grateful for the many contributions of Bill and Bobbi O’Hara. Through their dedication to Bryant College, a strong foundation was created for much of the success Bryant University enjoys today. A campus memorial service for the life of William T. O’Hara will be held in the Machtley Interfaith Center at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 14, 2018. The Dr. William T. O’Hara Memorial Scholarship Fund has been established as a lasting legacy in his honor. Members of the Bryant community are invited to share their memories of Bill O’Hara  at  https://www.facebook.com/bryantuniversity/ .