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Walter Milne, Cambridge ambassador and aide to six MIT presidents, dies at 80


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

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

Milne served from 1951-91 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. He also served under four chairmen: Killian, Johnson, David S. Saxon and Gray.

Killian devoted a page in his 1985 memoirs, "The Education of a College President," to "Walter L. Milne: Ambassador to Cambridge."

Killian wrote, "In Great Britain his title would be private secretary to the prime minister; at MIT we call him assistant to the chairman and the president. Given the range of his duties external to the Institute, he might be dubbed foreign minister since he has been the principal officer at MIT who represents it in its relations with the city of Cambridge.

"After having served as assistant to Jim Rowlands, director of the News Office, and then to Francis Wylie, director of public relations, he joined the presidential staff in 1958, during the period I was in Washington [as science advisor to President Eisenhower], and there provided my successor, President Stratton, with valuable continuity. Later during my chairmanship, when I began to give special attention to MIT's Cambridge relationships, he carried on the work [with the city].

"It was soon recognized within and without the Institute that he had special gifts for the cultivation of amiable town-and-gown relationships. His diplomacy in handling affairs led me to conclude that MIT had the best civic relations of any institution in the city.

"Beyond these more formal responsibilities, he had qualities that led officers of the Institute to turn to him for counsel and advice on many matters," Killian wrote.

Milne leaves his wife Ruth. Also surviving are three children from his marriage with the late Ida Norton: Richard of Lexington, Nancy Savioli of Arlington, and Peter of Somerville; eight grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; a half-brother, Malcolm Salter; and two stepsons, Barry and Bruce Boyce.

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, P.O. Box 39-0647, Cambridge, MA 02139.

A more complete obituary with tributes from Vest, Gray and Johnson is online.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 8, 2003.

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