Former president Gordon Eaton has died

Gordon Eaton head shot

Gordon Eaton, 1986

Gordon Eaton, who served as Iowa State president from 1986 to 1990, died July 2 in Bryan, Texas. He was 93.

A memorial service will be held Friday, July 29, in Bryan. In retirement, Eaton and his wife, Virginia, returned to the College Station-Bryan area, where he had served for five years at Texas A&M University before arriving in Ames.

"While Gordon Eaton's tenure at Iowa State was relatively brief, the list of achievements under his leadership was long -- and have proven long-lasting," said President Wendy Wintersteen.

During the Eaton years, Iowa State increased financial support for undergraduate education and underrepresented student recruitment. Sponsored research funding doubled. The ISU Research Park was established on an initial 220 acres. Significant progress was achieved in growing the university's operating budget and making faculty salaries competitive.

"President Eaton characterized these and many other achievements as the result of effective collaboration and hard work by many dedicated people and partners," Wintersteen said. "Those attributes remain relevant today as we build upon the legacy of past leaders like Gordon Eaton."

Other accomplishments during Eaton's tenure included:

  • Ongoing strategic planning was implemented.
  • The Faculty Senate, with shared governance responsibilities, replaced a faculty council in 1988.
  • Several research centers were created, including the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and nine major buildings were completed, including Molecular Biology, National Soil Tilth Laboratory (now the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment), Durham Center, Applied Science Center and the Lied Recreation/Athletics Center.
  • Iowa State was selected as the secretariat for the World Food Prize, an initial role among many to come in a longstanding relationship with the Des Moines-based foundation.

Eaton residence hall on the west side of campus was named for Iowa State's 12th president when it opened in 2002.

Eaton, a geologist by training, left Iowa State to become director of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory north of New York City, "an offer I have decided I cannot refuse" he said at the time. In 1994, President Bill Clinton appointed him director of the U.S. Geological Survey, headquartered in Reston, Virginia, the position from which he retired in 1997.

Earlier in his career, from 1967 to 1981, Eaton held various positions with the geological survey in Virginia, Hawaii, Colorado and Washington, D.C. His return to higher education began in 1981, when he served as dean of the College of Geosciences (1981-83) and provost and vice president for academic affairs (1983-86) at Texas A&M.

Eaton, a native of Dayton, Ohio, earned a B.A. in geology (1951) from Wesleyan University, Middleton, Connecticut, and an M.S. in geology (1953) and Ph.D. in geology and geophysics (1957) from California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

Memorial gifts may be made to the Arbor Oaks at Crestview Residents Association, Memorial Garden Fund, at 2505 E. Villa Maria Rd., Bryan, Texas 77802.