- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 17, 2006

DENVER — Before David Horowitz became the bete noire of liberal academia, there was George C. Roche III, a charismatic conservative academic who turned a little-known Michigan college into a national center of intellectual independence.

Mr. Roche, who died from complications of diabetes earlier this month at 70, was revered by conservatives for his dedication to academic freedom as the longtime president of Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Mich., until a scandal forced his resignation in 1999 and led to his fall from grace within the movement.

In the past two years, his supporters had sought to restore Mr. Roche’s reputation, creating a Web site featuring his writings and encouraging him to appear in public for speeches. In March 2005, after shunning reporters for years, he agreed to a series of interviews with The Washington Times.

Mr. Roche’s reputation was all but destroyed when his daughter-in-law Lissa Roche, wife of George C. Roche IV, announced that she and her father-in-law had been involved in an affair and then committed suicide. The previous year, the elder Mr. Roche had filed for divorce from his wife of 44 years and become engaged to Mary “Dean” Hagen.

Mr. Roche denied his daughter-in-law’s accusation but resigned immediately as president and moved to the secluded mountain town of Ouray, Colo.

He told The Times that he was “blindsided” by the accusation and insisted that it wasn’t true, but he worried that he couldn’t defend himself without attacking her memory. He and his son, George IV, both told The Times that they had reconciled.

While attacked by many liberals in the press, Mr. Roche’s toughest criticism came from the right. Conservatives continued to struggle with Mr. Roche’s legacy in the days after his death.

“There are mixed feelings among conservatives between those who remember him fondly and those who were horrified by the circumstances which resulted in his resignation,” Mark G. Michaelsen, who worked for Mr. Roche at Hillsdale in the 1980s, wrote in the American Spectator. “Sometimes those two sentiments alternate.”

Mr. Roche took over the presidency of Hillsdale in 1971 at 36, becoming the youngest college president in the nation. During his 28-year tenure, he increased the school’s endowment from $2 million to more than $200 million, doubled the faculty and quadrupled Hillsdale’s library holdings.

His most notable achievement came with his fight against accepting federal aid and the regulations that came with it, no matter what the cost. After losing a Supreme Court challenge in 1984, Hillsdale undertook an aggressive fundraising campaign that would allow the school to eschew all federal funding and provide private financial aid to its students.

Instead of sinking into debt as some had predicted, Hillsdale flourished as conservatives rallied to support the college’s quest for independence. Prominent politicians, writers and jurists spoke regularly on campus and contributed articles for Hillsdale’s national publication, Imprimis.

The college will hold a public memorial service for Mr. Roche at 7 p.m. May 24 at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Hillsdale.

Mr. Roche grew up in Colorado and attended Regis College in Denver. He earned a doctorate from the University of Colorado and served in the Marines before taking a teaching job at the Colorado School of Mines.

He is survived by his wife; his former wife, June Bernard Roche; his children George IV, Muriel Peters, Maggie Murphy and Jacob Roche, as well as four grandchildren.

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