John Chaney approached the podium at the stage of Temple’s Performing Arts Center Friday morning. Once he got there, Temple’s former basketball coach removed his sunglasses and gathered his emotions.
Then, he shared multiple stories about Peter Liacouras, Temple’s former president.
“He wasn’t somebody who was above,” Chaney told a crowd of about 250. “He was never above anybody, and that’s why you call him Peter, not Dr. Liacouras. He walked down the street, and he knew every student’s name.”
Chaney’s stories were part of a memorial service for Liacouras, in which colleagues and family members shared their experiences with Temple’s seventh president, who served from 1982-2000.
Daniel Polett, university trustee and the namesake of Polett Walk, commended Liacouras for his generosity.
“When Peter Liacouras was your friend—and he certainly was my friend—you didn’t need a lot of friends,” Polett said. “He was loyal to those he trusted, and he responded to any need you had.”
Multiple speakers at the service remembered the former president for growing Temple from a commuter school into a residential campus. They also recalled Liacouras’ willingness to stand up for his beliefs and compassion toward students, faculty and staff.
University chancellor Richard Englert said Liacouras had multiple personas during his time at Temple, from being compassionate to combative to transformational. He noted since the groundbreaking of the Apollo at Temple—now known as the Liacouras Center—in 1996, undergraduate enrollment has increased 90 percent.
Englert said one persona, “Legacy Peter,” will endure on.
“When we visit the Liacouras Center, or stroll down Liacouras Walk, or ponder Temple’s greatness, we should give thanks for the man,” he said. “The man who devoted so much of himself to our university, who was widely beloved, who dared to bend history, who reshaped Temple University’s Main Campus, who was a fierce defender of those in need and those denied social justice.”
Multiple members of Liacouras’ family addressed the crowd. John Locke Marshall, a grandson, said he will remember Peter Liacouras as the “best grandfather he could ask for.”
During an emotional speech, Marshall described one of the last times he spent with Liacouras before his stroke in 2010. They were at the Reading Terminal Market when a lady came and sat next to them. She was distressed, so Liacouras shot her a smile and said hello.
“I’ll never forget how surprised and appreciative she was when he paid for her meal,” Marshall said.
Lisa Liacouras, a daughter of Peter, said even after his stroke in 2010, he continued to embrace people he met—and still had the same demeanor when he worked at Temple.
“He acknowledged visitors to his [hospital] room with cheers, making it crystal clear how happy he was to see them. Sometimes he cruised his wheelchair over to the door and opened it, letting them know their visit was over,” said Lisa, which made the audience laugh.
Other family members who spoke included his son Stephen and granddaughter Nicole. Stephen explained how his father set goals because he enjoyed the journey required to reach them, reading “Ithaka,” a poem by C.P. Cavafy that captured the message.
Nicole read “When Great Trees Fall” by Maya Angelou, a poem that captured Liacouras’ impact on the Temple community.
“And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
Irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.”
~ Final stanza of “When Great Trees Fall” by Maya Angelou
The final speaker at the memorial was Peter’s son Gregory. He recalled backyard sports with neighbors, friends and his dad, life in the city, watching Philadelphia sports teams, April Fool’s jokes and many more memories.
Gregory said that in the last couple of weeks, many people have told him he bears a striking resemblance to Peter.
“Regardless of how it’s intended, I always take it as a compliment, now more so than ever,” he said. “Even though my dad is no longer physically here, he’ll be coming along with me wherever I go.”
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Steve_Bohnel.