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Remembrance event tells stories of former chancellor Kenneth Gros Louis



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Provost Lauren Robel begins the memorial of Kenneth R. R. Gros Louis with remarks on Gros Louis' personality. Gros Louis died Oct. 20, 2017, and a memorial took place Saturday, April 28 in Ruth N. Halls Theatre.  Buy Photos

Friends, family and colleagues of former chancellor Kenneth R. R. Gros Louis gathered at the Ruth N. Halls Theatre on April 28 to tell stories about Gros Louis and remember his life. 

Gros Louis died October 20, 2017, at age 80. Gros Louis began at IU in 1964 as an assistant professor in the departments of English and Comparative Literature. Gros Louis also served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and vice president of the University among other leadership roles.

Around 300 people gathered for the remembrance.

Gros Louis shared the title of University Chancellor with Herman B Wells, the only other person to occupy the position. 

Many speakers talked about the dry humor and wit Gros Louis brought to many speeches, meetings and interactions with students. 

"Ken delivered a punchline with the impeccable timing and subtlety of a Jack Benny, utterly diffusing the inevitable tense moments any academic leader faces with a hilarious non-sequitur or charming self-deprecating story," Provost Lauren Robel said.

Perry Metz, executive director of Radio and Television Services at IU, worked with Gros Louis for more than 20 years. Metz said Gros Louis was able to see the funny side in any situation. The joke could be in front of thousands of people or just for his own amusement.

When Gros Louis was first appointed vice president, he was shocked that each vice president was expected to circulate his calendar for the week to the other vice presidents, Metz said. Gros Louis didn't like the idea, so he began peppering his calendar with the names of minor figures from medieval literature. No one said anything.

At a monthly meeting of the campus deans, during a report on the Wells Scholars Program, the director was talking about a particular student who was facing a choice between getting her Ph.D. or becoming an international fashion model, Metz said. Gro Louis interrupted, saying "Yes, a choice many of us in this room have been forced to make."

Through his interactions with students, Gros Louis made Bloomington a welcoming place for students of all backgrounds, Robel said. He was an advocate for the creation of the Office of Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Student Support Services.

Julie and Amy Gros Louis, Kenneth Gros Louis’ daughters, spoke about having Gros Louis as a father and friend. 

“From getting advice about boys in grade school to having him proofread my articles I've submitted over the past few years, he had a way of offering support and advice without explicitly giving advice,” Julie Gros Louis said. 

Amy Gros Louis said her father was someone who cared about students, colleagues, staff, parents, friends, family and IU. She said he was a mentor to most of the people in the room.

“He truly cared about everyone in his life and wanted the best for all,” Amy Gros Louis said. “Dad wrote heartfelt, emotional Christmas cards to Julie and me, frequently reminding us, ‘Care for others and you'll be taken care of.’”

Metz and other speakers continued to tell story after story about how Gros Louis had supported them, mentored them or made them laugh. Others spoke about his support of student leaders. The remembrance event included a video presentation of students sharing their memories of Gros Louis. 

Mark Jensen, an IU alumnus, talked about Gros Louis’ private phone line in his office, the extension for which matched the initials of his full name, Kenneth Richard Russell Gros Louis. 

“He called that special phone extension his 'back phone,’” Jensen said. “If you ever wanted someone to listen, ever our own superhero, you dialed the secret digits that matched those crazy initials of the wonderful man with two middle names.”

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