SUNY Old Westbury Mourns Passing of President Emeritus John D. Maguire

John D. Maguire portrait from 1980

The entire SUNY Old Westbury community today mourns the loss of President Emeritus John D. Maguire, the civil rights pioneer and long-time educator who served as president of the College from 1970 until 1981.  Dr. Maguire died on October 26, 2018 in California.  Below is the message shared with the campus community today by current President Calvin O. Butts, III.

Good morning to the campus community.

With heartfelt sorrow I must report this morning the death of Dr. John D. Maguire, president emeritus of the State University of New York at Old Westbury.  Dr. Maguire passed away early Friday morning in California.

The president of SUNY Old Westbury from 1970-1981, he provided vision and leadership that has served as a bedrock of our College's mission for most of its more than 50-year history. Dr. Maguire was a distinguished national and international scholar, administrator, and civil rights activist. A Freedom Rider who befriended Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he was an active participant in the struggle for equity and fairness in America for more than 50 years. After Dr. King's death, Dr. Maguire became a founding member of the King Center for Social Change in Atlanta, Georgia, and later its chair. Along with his leadership at Old Westbury, he also was president emeritus of Claremont Graduate University and a senior fellow of the Institute for Democratic Renewal. Since 2004, he and Mrs. Lillian "Billie" Maguire had been Woodrow Wilson Foundation Visiting Fellows, making regular visits to colleges throughout the country.   

Dr. and Mrs. Maguire last visited Old Westbury in 2011, when Dr. Maguire provided the Commencement Address for our graduating class. While here, he touched on the relation of moral philosophy and religious thought to contemporary society; and on issues of human rights and social justice. Touching on those ideals was no surprise to the long-time faculty members who knew him best. His was the leadership that helped forge the commitment to diversity of which we remain so proud and that set the course of what we continue to explore -- what he called "the riddle of human justice."

He represented the best of what is at the very core of the Old Westbury experience -- a belief that all humankind shares this Earth equally, and that we must focus both on what brings us together and what divides us. 

Every freshman student of Old Westbury today is required to read from a textbook created by faculty of our College titled “The Ethics of Engagement.” In that textbook on page 329 is an address Dr. Maguire made on this campus in 1980 called “What Old Westbury Is Really About.” In that speech, he told the students, faculty, staff, parents and alumni present that this College: 

  • Was committed to examining civic as well as intellectual values 
  • Was committed to educating, not training  
  • Operated with the belief that remembering, creating and imagining led to new understanding, and 
  • Above all, that Old Westbury educated people to lead resourceful, courageous and compassionate lives. 

I am proud to say I have followed in the footsteps of Dr. John D. Maguire as president of an institution dedicated to solving “the riddle of human justice” as we endeavor to stimulate a passion for learning and a commitment to building a more just and sustainable world among our students. As I lament his passing, I will also remember all the good he has done across a lifetime of service and commitment to others.   

Please take a moment today to give thought and prayer to Mrs. Maguire and the Maguire family as they mourn the passing of this great activist, educator, and leader. 

Thank you. 

Calvin O. Butts, III

The video below features remembrances from Dr. Maguire, taped during his 2011 visit to campus, on the earliest planning meetings he held as president of SUNY Old Westbury. This video was prepared by the campus' Media Innovation Center and features clips gathered from "Experiments: Old Westbury Oral History Project," which delved into the early years of the College's history.