Remembering Doug Danforth ’47

July 24, 2015

Passion. Drive. Dedication. These are just a few of the words used to describe Trustee Doug Danforth ’47. Danforth, a lifelong supporter of Syracuse University, passed away on June 9, 2015. “From the moment we could speak he was drilling into us that we wanted to study engineering and we wanted to do it at Syracuse.” Ryan Sullivan ’06, Doug Danforth’s grandson. Danforth, whose ancestors were among the first settlers in Syracuse, came from a family of extremely modest means. In the 1940s he was an unlikely candidate to have the opportunity to go to college. Despite the challenges, he was determined to go to Syracuse University. He would often tell his family the story of walking on campus to enroll with his trumpet in one hand and his duffel in the other. “When I enrolled in college only about 7% of high school graduates even thought about going to college,” said Danforth in a 2006 video produced about Syracuse war veteran students. “Thanks to the G.I. Bill, it allowed returning service people to enter college—and for many families for the first time.” “The faculty went all out and did their part to help the returning G.I.’s in that they opened their homes—because many of us had not studied for several years. So it was kind of a new environment for a transition from a military life to a civilian life.” Danforth worked a night job as a repairman and went to school during the day. He also played in the band, played baseball and acted in school dramas. His wife Janet also worked to help support him going through college. “His stories about his time at Syracuse University always reminded us of those tales of walking uphill in the snow—both ways. When you put it all together there just didn’t seem to be enough hours in the day—but he did it,” remembers Sullivan. By all accounts, Danforth had an extraordinary professional career. After spending a few years after graduation in South and Central America, he joined Westinghouse in 1955 as executive vice president and general manager of a sister company, Industria Electrica de Mexico. In 1961 he moved to Pittsburgh, where he continued to rise in the ranks at Westinghouse until he became CEO and chairman in the 1980s. In the mid-1980s, Danforth helped save the Pittsburgh Pirates from being sold to out-of-state investors, who would have moved the team out of the city, by creating a public-private ownership group with several other area corporations and Carnegie Mellon University. His professional and personal passions led him to forge relationships with U.S. presidents, international leaders, and industry CEOs, but he never forgot the path that brought him his success. “Doug was the quintessential old-school gentleman—dedicated to his city, Pittsburgh, his company, Westinghouse, his university, Syracuse, and his friends and family,” said Eric Spina, Trustee Professor, who had the opportunity to work closely with him when he served as the Douglas D. Danforth Dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science and as the University’s Vice Chancellor and Provost. Danforth was a philanthropic leader who understood the value of supporting the next generation of leaders and the place that had given so much to him. “He saw Syracuse University as a life-changing experience,” said Sullivan. “What Doug was really passionate about was the students—he loved to interact with the students when he would come to campus,” said Spina. “His last gift to the University is focused on supporting students through scholarships.” Through his generosity in supporting Syracuse University students his legacy will live on here on the hill. Doug Danforth—you will be missed.