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Gov. Francis Sargent, MIT lecturer and alumnus, dies at 83

Francis W. Sargent, an MIT graduate who returned to his alma mater as a senior lecturer after serving as governor of Massachusetts from 1969-74, died Thursday of heart failure at his home in Dover. He was 83 years old.

Gov. Sargent (class of 1939), received a special degree in architecture after completing four years of what was then a five-year program. A classmate and friend of I.M. Pei's, he was on the dean's list each year and received a scholastic prize. "I wish I had finished the five years," he said when he became governor.

As governor, he served on the MIT Corporation and spoke briefly at the 1969 Commencement. Noting the turmoil and unrest that permeated college campuses during those days, Gov. Sargent urged the graduates to use their creativity positively.

"It is this school's task, and this society's challenge, to focus your quest for excellence because it is the greatest force in America," he said. "But it must be channeled into America's mainstream, for a better America tomorrow requires a rational America today, and we can build tomorrow only on the foundation of the past, not on the rubble of ruined institutions���������������������������

"A demand for excellence must be met by a genuine response. It is our task to provide that response not only for you, the gifted youth of America, but indeed for all America and all Americans. There can be no other way. There can be no other America."

A dedicated conservationist, Gov. Sargent delivered the keynote address at an all-day program at MIT on the first Earth Day in 1970 and posed for photographers behind the wheel of the MIT experimental electric car Tech II.

Howard W. Johnson, who was president of MIT from 1966-71, remembers Gov. Sargent fondly and recalls the Earth Day speech. "It was a great job and he loved the interaction with the students," he said. "He was proud that he was an alumnus of MIT and I often called on him for his advice and ideas during those somewhat hectic times. I found him to be a strong and outspoken leader, especially on issues of health care, the environment and education."

After he was defeated in the election of 1974, Gov. Sargent accepted an appointment as a senior lecturer at the Joint MIT-Harvard Center for Urban Studies.

Known for his wry sense of humor and self-deprecating manner, the former governor was a popular attraction for students. The "Sargent Seminars" studied the roles played by planners, developers, public officials and interest groups in developing public policies on land-use issues.

Gov. Sargent is survived by his wife of 60 years, Jessie (Fay), who resides in an assisted living facility in Westwood; three children, F. William Jr. of Charlestown, Fay of Cambridge and Jessie (known as Jay) of Middleton, RI; a brother, Arthur Adams Jr. of Dover; five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

A service for Gov. Sargent was scheduled for this morning in St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Wellesley. Burial will be private. Contributions may be made in Gov. Sargent's memory to the Conservation Law Foundation, 62 Summer St., Boston, MA 02110.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 28, 1998.

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