Trustee Van Cleve dies

William M. Van Cleve, a life trustee and former chairman of the Board of Trustees, died Friday, Feb. 28, 2003, at the skilled care unit at No. 2 McKnight Place in Ladue, Mo. He was 73.

As chairman from 1993-95, he provided invaluable leadership during a critical period of transition at the University. Upon the retirement of Chancellor William H. Danforth, Van Cleve chaired the search committee for the University’s 14th chancellor — Mark S. Wrighton.

William Van Cleve
William Van Cleve

A 1953 graduate of the School of Law, Van Cleve was first elected to the Board of Trustees in 1983.

Van Cleve’s friends will remember him as a great man who combined keen intelligence with a loving heart, wisdom with marvelous humor, precision with tolerance, and a passion for work with tremendous love for his wife, his family and his many friends.

“In the last years, he had more than his share of illness and suffering,” said Danforth, chancellor emeritus and vice chairman of the Board of Trustees. “But looking back, he also had more than the normal allotment of accomplishments, a great family, many devoted friends who loved him and would do anything for him.

“He loved the game of life with its many challenges. He made us better and St. Louis better. And he had fun, lots of fun. We were happier just being around him.

“We are all very fortunate to have shared this planet and this community with such a man. His life continues to be our blessing.”

Van Cleve served as a personal lawyer for more than 25 years for former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., a lifelong friend.

“He was a good man,” Bradley said, “a good man who lived his own truth with dignity and shared his own life with generosity; a man who remembered those who had less, even as he advised those who had more; a man who built things with vision and fierce determination and bequeathed them with joy and great caring.”

Named a life trustee for the University in 1995, his board work was extensive and incredibly dedicated. He served on the Executive Committee for 18 years, and on the Nominating and Medical Finance committees during his nearly 20-year tenure as a trustee. His committee work spanned all of the 15 standing committees of the board.

Van Cleve’s leadership and guidance for the School of Law was remarkable.

He was the founding chair of its National Council and a member of the advisory body from its inception. He played a key role in the law school’s “Building for a New Century” campaign, serving as the executive vice chair of the cabinet and generously supporting the construction of Anheuser-Busch Hall.

During his studies at the law school, he met his future wife, the former Georgia Hess Dunbar, then an undergraduate in Arts & Sciences.

The history of Van Cleve’s rise in the law firm Bryan Cave LLP parallels that of the firm’s rise to prominence.

When he joined Bryan Cavein 1958, he was its 13th lawyer. He became managing partnerin 1973 and assumed the chairin 1983.

When he retired from management duties in 1994, he had overseen the expansion of Bryan Cave from a local law office to one that was international in stature, with more than 550 lawyers and nine offices throughout the United States, as well as seven overseas offices.

The University recognized Van Cleve’s outstanding service and accomplishments in many ways. In 1992, he received the School of Law’s Distinguished Alumni Award, and in 1996 he was given the William Greenleaf Eliot Society “Search” Award.

He was elected an honorary member of the Order of the Coif in 1985. The University bestowed on him its highest recognition with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the 2001 Commencement.

John R. Bowen, Ph.D., of the Department of Anthropology, is the Dunbar-Van Cleve Professor in Arts & Sciences, established by the Van Cleves in 1999.

A memorial service was held March 3 at Graham Chapel.

In addition to his wife, survivors include sons Peter, Robert and Emory; daughter Sarah Van Doren; and seven grandchildren.

Memorial contributions may be made to Washington University, Campus Box 1082,St. Louis, MO 63130.