Remembering David. H. Porter
On Friday, March 25th, Skidmore’s 5th President, David H. Porter passed away. Porter was the president of Skidmore from 1987 to 1999. After his term as president he went to teach at few colleges before returning to Skidmore to be a professor till his retirement in 2013.
Although Porter was the president of Skidmore before any current student and many current faculty members were at Skidmore, there are still many people who have fond memories of Porter.
Sarah Breitenfeld ’15 is a Skidmore alum who was fortunate enough to have taken a few courses with Porter. She took his Latin class “Roman Comedy" in Fall 2012 and “Writing from Myth:” a course he co-taught during Spring 2013. In her sophomore year she took her first semester of ancient Greek and was struggling with the language’s use of accents. “I had commandeered one of the Classics classrooms and had taken to writing out several declensions with accents on the board in an attempt at memorization,” said Breitenfeld. During her time in the classroom, Porter walked by, and to Breitenfeld’s surprise he watched her work. “After noting my confusion, he took a seat and started patiently instructing me,” said Breitenfeld. She also talked about how they worked together for at least an hour because “he was determined not to let me leave until I had thoroughly learned where to employ rules and where it really was just easier to memorize. Prof. Porter was not my Greek instructor and had no obligation to help me, especially for such a long time. Frankly, I was a recent major and we barely knew each other at the time. But he saw a frustrated student and took the time to help.”
Shannon DuBois ’13 is another Skidmore alum that knew Porter during his time as a professor at Skidmore. Dubois spent her senior year working with Porter on her Classics thesis that was inspired by a class she took with him during the spring of her junior year. DuBois worked with Porter on her thesis because to her, he “was the only possible choice for my advisor. Not only was he one of the most brilliant people I’d ever met, but the way he taught and connected with students made me want to work with him one-on-one, and I knew I’d never get another opportunity quite like that. It was the best possible choice I could have made, too, because working with David that year was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.” For DuBois, Porter was a teacher that she made room for in her schedule, a mentor, “but above all things, he was my friend. He was someone I could talk to for hours, and someone I always looked forward to visiting even after I graduated.”
Porter did not only help students during his time on campus, but also after his retirement he showed his dedication and willingness to help students. “When I sought his [Porter] help for a project last year, he was incredibly warm, generous and kind,” said Sam Harris ’15. Harris also talked about how “David Porter dedicated so much of his life and his love to an institution that means more than I can say. For that, I am forever grateful.”
Many faculty and staff who have been at Skidmore for a while knew Porter well. For faculty, like psychology professor Sheldon Solomon, who was already here when Porter became president, “David was a remarkable person, a rare combination of administrative skill, academic excellence (as a concern pianist, a professor of classics, and a Willa Cather scholar), and devotion to the community (Skidmore and Saratoga Springs). Moreover, he embodied all of the traits that I admire in people at their best: playfulness, kindness, sincerity, generosity, respect for others, persistent good cheer, and a great sense of (pun-riddled) humor. David took himself too seriously to take himself too seriously.”
“I loved him like family, and I cannot thank him enough for his kindness and friendship. I was truly blessed to have known him,” said DuBois. Many members of the Skidmore community will miss Porter, as his presence at Skidmore was one that embodied the spirit of the Skidmore community. A memorial service remembering him was held in Zankel on Friday April 8th.