Walter Milne dies at 80; aide to 6 MIT presidents, helped develop Cambridge institutions


A private service was held Friday, Dec. 27 for Walter L. Milne, who played a key role over four decades at MIT as an aide to six presidents and helped develop many Cambridge institutions as MIT's liaison to the city. Milne, 80, died at his Cambridge home on Dec. 23 of complications from Alzheimer's disease.

He served from 1951 to 1991 in the MIT presidential administrations of the late James R. Killian Jr., the late Julius A. Stratton, Howard W. Johnson, the late Jerome B. Wiesner, Paul E. Gray and Charles M. Vest.

Killian, in his memoirs, praised Milne as "a trusted counselor" and "MIT's ambassador to Cambridge." Milne for many years had the unusual title of assistant to the chairman and to the president. He served under four chairmen: Killian, Johnson, David S. Saxon and Gray.

He was born in Fall River on Apr. 14, 1922. After graduating from Durfee High School there, he went to Brown University where he got a BA in English in 1943.

During World War II, he served in the Navy as a lieutenant j.g, from 1943 to 1946. He taught English at Veterans Regional High School in Fall River while studying for his master's degree, which he received from Brown in 1947. He taught English for two years at Brown and two years at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

He joined MIT in 1951as an editorial assistant to the News Service and the Educational Council. He moved to Arlington, Mass. with his wife, Ida (Norton), whom he married in 1943. She died in 1978.

Milne's first MIT promotion was to administrative assistant to the News Service and President Killian in 1953. He also was the MIT science reporter on WGBH-TV in its early days and served as assistant director of public relations in the late 1950s.

In 1958, after Killian went to Washington to be President Eisenhower's national science advisor, Stratton, the acting president, named Milne as his assistant. Milne became assistant to the chairman when Killian became chairman in 1959.

"I worked with him for 17 years, from 1966 to 1971 as president and 1971 to 1983 as chairman," said Johnson. "Walter was a man who knew Cambridge, its leaders and people," said Johnson. "He knew our institution well. He was a good man and an honest man."

Johnson said that Milne played a key role in MIT's construction of 700 "turnkey" elderly housing units on three sites for Cambridge, the largest such program in the nation in the late 1960s. In 1972, President Wiesner gave him the additional title of special assistant to the president for urban relations.

Milne was deeply involved in the planning of the Cambridge Center complex in Kendall Square. He raised funds and served on the board for many human service organizations in Cambridge.

Robert Healy, Cambridge city manager since 1982, said in a statement, "I considered Walter to be extremely well-informed and articulate, and very helpful in our mutual efforts to make this a better community. Walter's help was extremely appreciated in handling issues around CASPAR (the Cambridge and Somerville Project for Alcohol Rehabilitation) and in the planning and creation of the Citywide Senior Center opposite City Hall, where he was instrumental in raising funds for a variety of needs."

In 1998, the city dedicated the ballroom in the Senior Center to Milne, who was board chairman of the Friends of the Council on Aging (COA). The COA newsletter said, "Walter's magnanimous spirit was infectious, encouraging business owners and other community leaders to join with hundreds of individuals to become financial donors to this center."

Gray, president from 1980 to 1990, said, "I benefited, beyond my capacity to acknowledge, from Walter's intimate knowledge of the processes of government on Capitol Hill, on Beacon Hill, and in our City Hall. The Institute has been enriched by his judgment and wisdom."

Milne also served as staff to the selection committees that chose three presidents--Wiesner, Gray and Vest-- and two chairmen of the corporation, David S. Saxon and the current chairman, Alexander V. D'Arbeloff.

Vest, president since 1990, commented, "I have fond memories of Walter Milne, who played a major role in effecting my transition to the MIT presidency. Becky, our children and I remember his warmth, attention to detail and personal friendship through that happy but complicated period of our lives. He was a friend and supporter of the entire MIT community and we all will miss him. Walter also was a tutor to me and to all our government and community relations officers. He was known for having set a high standard of integrity and principle in all of MIT's Washington dealings."

Milne moved to Cambridge in 1979 upon his marriage to Ruth Clark of Haverhill.

His Cambridge activities for MIT included devoted service to the Salvation Army and to the Boy Scouts. He had been an Eagle Scout as a youth and years later was given Scouting's highest award in recognition of his service as commissioner of the Boston area Minuteman Council.

He founded the Cambridge Partnership for Public Education, the Skills Bank of the Boston Urban Foundation, and the MIT Community Service Fund, which provides volunteer services in Cambridge. He also helped establish the Neighborhood Family Care Center.

He served a term as head of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, president of the Cambridge Rotary Club and president of the East End Union.

He served on the boards of the Cambridge Model Cities Program, Just-A-Start Corporation, the Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee, Reliance Cooperative Bank, Cambridgeport Savings Banks, and two organizations promoting housing, the Cambridge Corporation and the Northgate Community Corporation. The Cambridge Corporation built hundreds of affordable housing units in the city.

He leaves his wife Ruth and his three children, Richard, of Lexington, Mass., Nancy Savioli of Arlington, Mass. and Peter, of Somerville, eight grandchildren and seven great-grand children. He also leaves a half-brother, Malcolm Salter, and two stepsons, Barry and Bruce Boyce.

The family asks that in lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in his name to the VNA Hospice, 186 Alewife Brook Parkway, Cambridge, MA 02138, or to the Salvation Army Cambridge Corps, 402 Mass. Ave., P.O. Box 39-0647, Cambridge, MA 02139.

A memorial service will be held at MIT at a date to be determined.


Topics: Obituaries

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