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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Former Brandeis pres struck and killed by car

Published: December 27, 2011
Section: Front Page

Evelyn E. Handler, the first female president of Brandeis, who transformed the university’s life sciences and athletic programs, serving as a leader for women in higher education, died Dec. 23 after she was struck and killed by a car in Bedford, N.H. She was 78.

Handler, who lived in Bow, N.H., was crossing at the corner of South River Road and Colby Court near the Bedford Grove Shopping Center when she was struck by a car at 5:21 p.m. last Friday. She was later pronounced dead at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester.

“It is with great sadness, particularly during this holiday season, that we write to let you know that former Brandeis President Evelyn E. Handler died Friday night …” university President Fred Lawrence and Chairman of the Board Malcolm Sherman wrote in a statement on Sunday. “On behalf of the entire Brandeis community, we extend our deepest sympathies to the Handler family.”

Handler also served as the first female president of the University of New Hampshire from 1980 to 1983 before her tenure at Brandeis from 1983 to 1991.

Under Handler, Brandeis was admitted to the Association of American Universities and the school launched the Volen Center for Complex Systems. Brandeis also joined the University Athletic Association during Handler’s leadership.

Her tenure, however, was not without controversy. In an effort to attract more non-Jewish students, Handler oversaw changes in the dining halls that included new options of pork and selfish, according to The Boston Globe. In addition, Brandeis did not mark certain days off from class as Jewish holidays on the calendar. In June 1990, she announced her resignation to take effect one year later.

Handler graduated from Hunter College and earned a master’s degree and doctorate in biology from New York University. Her scientific research focused on leukemia and, before serving as president of UNH, Handler was the dean of the Division of Science and Mathematics at Hunter College.

Handler is survived by her husband Eugene, two sons, a daughter and three grandchildren. A memorial service will be announced and shiva will be held Thursday at her son Jeff’s house in Wellesley.