Temple University held a memorial service on Friday honoring former university president, Peter J. Liacouras, who passed away on May 12.
The service began at 11:00 a.m. in the Temple University Performing Arts Center with speeches from Liacouras’ friends and colleagues from Temple University including Daniel Polett, Richard Englert and John Chaney.
David H. Polett, a trustee of Temple University, spoke about Liacouras’ dedication to the university.
“Peter transitioned Temple from a commuter school with limited campus life and limited campus housing to a dynamic and vibrant urban university,” said Polett. “During his tenure, it was his unique fortitude that helped him steer Temple through sometimes stormy waters to its position as a nationally recognized resource for both undergraduate and graduate excellence.”
Richard M. Englert, chancellor of Temple University, worked closely with Liacouras for many years at Temple and remembered the many sides of the former president.
“Peter had multiple personas, each was a genuine character, each a real original,” said Englert. “There was combative Peter and in this persona he was competitive, in your face, not afraid to offend and spoiling for a good fight. Combative Pater was not Mr. Nice Guy. Paradoxically, there was a second Peter who was a very nice guy. Compassionate Peter was extremely warm and especially sympathetic with those who were most in need. When he walked the campus, he knew people by name, he knew their personal stories and hardships, he was extraordinarily loyal to individuals. He loved students and they loved him.”
Englert told several stories about other sides of Peter Liacouras and said that he was comforted by the legacy that Liacouras would leave behind.
“Legacy Peter will endure for generations to come,” said Englert. “When you visit the Liacouras Center or stroll down Liacouras Walk or ponder Temple’s greatness we should give thanks for the man who devoted so much of himself to our university, who was widely beloved, who dared to bend history, who reshaped Temple University’s main campus, who was a fierce defender of those in need and those denied social justice. We will greatly miss Peter but we will never forget him.”
John Chaney, former men’s basketball coach at Temple University, described his friendship with Liacouras beginning when Liacouras recruited Chaney to coach at Temple from Cheyney University. Chaney said that he was drawn to Temple because of Liacouras’ vision for the university and his passion for the community.
“We rode around all of North Philly, we rode places where Peter wanted me to see how much of a difference that Temple makes,” said Chaney. “While others were talking about moving out of the city Peter said, ‘to hell with them.’ He was someone who believed that this university could make a difference.”
After Peter’s friends and colleagues at Temple University spoke, some of his family members offered stories about who Liacouras was as a father, grandfather and friend.
Peter Liacouras’s daughter, Lisa Liacouras, talked about how her father always valued personal connections with the people he encountered. She said that even after he suffered a stroke in 2010 that left him unable to communicate verbally, he was still able to make people feel valued and special.
“After the stroke it would have been easy for him to disconnect from the world,” said Lisa Liacouras. “But he continued to forge strong connections with the people that he encountered everyday – the therapists, nurses, aids and other patients. Rather than greeting people with words, he smiled and grabbed their hand, bringing it to his lips to kiss. He acknowledged visitors to his room and made it crystal clear how happy he was to see them.”
Liacouras’ son, Stephen Liacouras, spoke about his father’s ambition and determination.
“All his life my dad was striving to reach ambitious goals, many of these objectives were difficult to achieve but he was never deterred by the time it took or by the obstacles he encountered along the way, in fact, his level of engagement and passion for an undertaking often increased when the objective was difficult or distant,” said Stephen Liacouras. “Whether the aim was realizing the vision of Templetown or researching the small details of his family history, he relished the twists and turns and the discoveries made along the way.”
Two of Liacouras’ grandchildren, John Locke Marshall and Nicole Liacouras, also spoke at the service. Nicole Liacouras recited the Maya Angelou poem “When Great Trees Fall” which she dedicated to her grandfather and Marshall spoke of the unconditional love and support that he felt from his grandfather.
“He encouraged me to be myself and often had more confidence in me than I did – his love and unwavering support provided a safe place for curiosity, exploration and discovery,” said Marshall, “There was no such thing as a stupid question and he enjoyed almost any topic of conversation.”
Peter Liacouras’ youngest son, Gregory Liacouras, ended the service with recounting childhood memories of his father, remarking how his father had a competitive spirt, a kind heart and was devoted to making the world a better place.
“As I got older I began to have more of an understanding and appreciation for the person my dad was, where he had come from, what he did for a living, how Philadelphia was a part of him and how passionate he was about Temple University and fighting the good fight, said Gregory Liacouras. “It is only fitting that after his stroke, the only words my dad ever wrote again were his name, my mom’s name and the word Temple.”
Immediately following the service was a reception in Temple University’s Mitten Hall where guests could offer their condolences to the Liacouras Family and celebrate the life of Peter Liacouras.
In lieu of flowers, the Liacouras family requested that donations be made to the Peter and Ann Liacouras Scholarship Fund at Temple University that provides scholarships for undergraduate students based on academic merit and financial need.