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Former chair of trustees awarded University Medal

Lewis B. Rome, former chair of the Board of Trustees and a long-time supporter of the University, Tuesday was awarded a University Medal at a special dinner and ceremony at the Wadsworth Atheneum.

The medal is the highest honor the board can bestow.

Rome, an alumnus of the Storrs campus and the School of Law, stepped down as chairman of the board in June, after more than five years as chair.

The dinner was attended by more than 250 people including former Gov. William O'Neill, former medal winners, current and former trustees, corporate executives, representatives of the Mohegans and Pequots, legislators, and family members.

His successor, Roger A. Gelfenbien, presented the medal, conferred in recognition of extraordinary distinction in public service, and for outstanding achievement and leadership, at a ceremony following the dinner.

"I think the University has reached to new heights under Lew's leadership," Gelfenbien said. "He and his wife, Kris, both have a lot of love for the University and we all have benefitted from that."

President Philip E. Austin said "Lew's enthusiasm and determination have enhanced the stature of the University. His devotion to UConn has made a real difference, a difference that will be felt by generations of students, alumni, faculty and staff.

"We are grateful to him for all his hard work and for his extraordinary vision," Austin added.

Appointed to the Board of Trustees in 1991, Rome was appointed chair in 1992 by Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. and continued to serve for two years under Gov. John G. Rowland. Long involved in service to UConn, Rome presided over the University's policy-making body during a time of unprecedented transformation.

A strong advocate for higher education, his vision for the University has encompassed everything from academic programs and personnel to buildings and physical plant. He was the driving force behind the strategic plan, now being implemented, which outlines the University's mission and vision for the future and he encouraged the University to boost its fund-raising capacity, a development that has already shown significant results.

He was instrumental in establishing UConn 2000, the $1 billion, 10-year bonding commitment from the state to rebuild and renew the University's campuses, and played a key role in the razing and redesign of the South Campus residence halls, now under construction.

Rome pushed the University to recruit the state's brightest students and to make UConn the first choice of students throughout the state. To help do that, he established the Nutmeg Scholars program, which provides four-year scholarships to recruit outstanding high school graduates.

An avid basketball fan, he also remains an advocate of outstanding athletic programs, a fact noted in a lighter moment at the dinner when Lew Perkins, director of athletics, presented Rome with a special basketball shirt emblazoned with the number one and Rome's last name.

Recognized throughout the state for his outspoken support for the University, he steered it through tight fiscal periods without losing sight of its potential and was a driving force in the relocation of the Stamford campus to the downtown location, expected to open in January 1998.

Rome earned a bachelor's degree in history in 1954 and an LL.B. from the UConn School of Law in 1957.

Sherry Fisher