2004 True Gentleman¬†– Robert T. Dean ’49

At Reunion 2004, SAE presented Robert T. Dean ’49 with the True Gentleman Award.

The following is the text of the speech honoring Bob Dean, given by Alumni Association President Kevin T. Merriman ’88:

A year ago we, as a board, decided it was important to honor alumni who have made important contributions to industry, the professions, or in service the fraternity; those whose lives exemplify the values and ideals of SAE, and it was decided that officers of the alumni assoc. would, from time-to-time, honor a brother in this fashion.

But, having agreed that this was important, we struggled with the question of what to name the award, and what criteria should be used in determining who should be selected to receive such an honor.

The answer soon became obvious; the criteria could only be our creed, The True Gentleman by John Walter Wayland, as that is the truest statement of what each of us as brothers of SAE strives to be in our own lives. It is worth reciting now, both as a reminder to us of the ideals it pronounces, and, for those who are not members of the fraternity, to provide a better understanding of what we are recognizing today.

The true gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe.
– John Walter Wayland

Thus, the True Gentleman Award. With these words in mind, it is befitting that our very first recipient of the True Gentleman Award is Bob Dean.

Bob could receive this award for many reasons, among them being:

  • He graduated from Cornell’s College of Engineering in ’49
  • He was a star football player, having lettered in ’46, ’47, and ’48 as a back, punter, and kicker.
  • Bob set Cornell’s all-time record for long plays, passing for a TD in a game with a 98-yard TD pass against Navy in ’47.
  • For these achievements, he was inducted into Cornell’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1986.
  • Bob has also been involved in many civic organizations, including as a trustee of the Village of Cayuga Heights, and as chairman of the Presbyterian Church.
  • In addition, he is an accomplished businessman.

But while all of these accomplishments are certainly noteworthy, we honor Bob today as a True Gentleman because of his dedicated service to the fraternity.

At our lowest point in NY Alpha’s long history at Cornell, fraternities were unpopular and membership was down considerably; so much so that it could not keep pace with its operating costs. This, in turn, led to borrowing, which led to substantial debt. By the late 1970s, the house was essentially bankrupt.

Bob Dean entered the picture, and spent many thankless years negotiating with CU to assume ownership and financial stewardship of the house and, at the same time, to preserve Hillcrest for generations of students to come.

Out of these negotiations came an unprecedented agreement; it resulted in a three-way relationship among the active brotherhood, the alumni assoc. and CU that set the framework for a partnership that has lasted two decades. It remains at the very heart of our organization. Indeed, we still operate today in accordance with its terms, which can be viewed on our website. Bob’s tireless efforts built the foundation for a new beginning, a beginning that attracted new leadership and inspired new generations of actives, and continues to endure today.

Bob Dean ’49 receiving True Gentleman award, with Charlie Kunken ’05 looking on, at the awards ceremony during Reunion Weekend 2004.