What a loss. What a remarkable person.
Malcolm Gillis did nothing halfway. A son of the rural Florida panhandle, his drive, commitment and intelligence brought him to the very top of American higher education. Here’s a link to the Rice News story that details his career, including the profoundly productive period of his Rice presidency.
When he arrived at Rice in 1993 to become the university’s sixth president, Malcolm simply and for all time became one of us. His loyalty was total. There was almost none of that “here’s how we used to do it where I was before” that many modern university administrators drag along with them to each new post. He knew the campus; he knew department assistants, groundskeepers, and librarians by name and spoke to them as colleagues. All his effort–all of it–was directed towards the best interest of the institution. This could be painful at times–I got seriously crosswise with him once about a major issue facing Rice and I will never forget the intensity of that episode. When it came to Rice’s future, he went full throttle.
But I saw that passion and commitment play out in other ways as well. I once saw Malcolm comforting a grieving student as if it were the only thing in the world that mattered and I likewise heard a story from halfway around the world of him emptying his pockets to help an orphanage in Syria only to realize he hadn’t left himself money to get to the airport.
When Malcolm stepped down after eleven years as president he gave an interview to one of the Houston papers (I forget which) and he said that although he’d had some terrible days at Rice, he’d never had a boring one. I know that’s true and I think it’s safe to say it was true for his entire life.
Malcom Gillis, rest in peace.