Andy Harvard '71 remembered for energy and zeal

by Elizabeth Janowski | 2/1/19 3:10am

World-renowned mountaineer, accomplished lawyer and former Dartmouth Outing Club director Andy Harvard ’71 brought a boundless energy and infectious zeal to every challenge he took upon himself. Then, at the age of 59, an Alzheimer’s diagnosis dealt him a devastating blow. 

Faced with an incurable illness, Harvard confronted the final challenge of his life with the same dignity that his friends and family had come to know him for. 

“His can-do spirit — his willingness to let us see and walk with him at the end of his life — was admirable,” said Bill Phillips ’71, film and media studies professor and director of “The Final Climb,” a documentary that will detail Harvard’s career and his battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

On Jan. 16, Harvard passed away at Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Jack Byrne Center for Palliative and Hospice Care in Lebanon. He was 69.

In 2008, just four years after being hired as the DOC’s director for outdoor programs, Harvard was abruptly fired on account of his failure to stay on top of daily administrative tasks. He struggled to respond to emails, missed deadlines and seemed to forget about meetings — all behaviors that were unlike him, according to his wife Kathy. Harvard’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis came several months after his termination. 

For years, the Harvards pursued a settlement with the College that would grant Andy the disability benefits he would have received if he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s while still working. However, Dartmouth never arrived at an agreement with the family.

“[Andy’s firing] was extremely painful for him and therefore painful for all of us,” Kathy Harvard said. “I don’t think he could even fathom that he had been treated so badly by an organization he loved so deeply.”

As a student at Dartmouth, Harvard developed a deep love for hiking and climbing through the Dartmouth Mountaineering Club. Fellow Dartmouth Mountaineering Club member and classmate Tom Loucks ’71 Gr’73 recalled instantly bonding with Harvard upon being paired with him on the first day of rockclimbing instruction in their freshman year. 

“Andy was a joy to be around,” Loucks said in an email statement. “I always felt that there was a feeling of excitement around him. He was observant, full of ideas, had a great but dry sense of humor and a tremendous sense of irony.”

According to Loucks, Harvard quickly became a skilled climber, going on to lead ice climbs in the White Mountains by his sophomore winter and ascending the Andes in the summer of 1970. 

After graduating, Harvard earned a law degree from Boston University, served as an assistant attorney general in Washington State and worked for the Federal Reserve Bank in New York. He took part in four expeditions on Mt. Everest, charting out a map that guided the first group of mountaineers up the east face of Everest since 1921.

“If Dartmouth is going to take a look at themselves and ask what do we want to be — in terms of leadership, in terms of motivation, in terms of leadership and effects on others — Andy would be the quintessential Dartmouth graduate,” Jason Densmore ’73, a friend of Harvard since his college days, said.

Harvard’s love of the outdoors and experience in business and law made him particularly well-suited to his position at the DOC, according to Densmore. As director, Harvard initiated efforts to revitalize the DOC in the face of declining student participation. One of his most notable projects involved the re-building of the Harris Cabin — now known as the Class of 1966 Lodge.

Engineering professor Chris Polashenski ’07 Gr’11 Th’11, who met Harvard early on in his tenure with the DOC, remembers the motivational, go-getter attitude that Harvard applied to his career. 

“One thing he was really good at doing as a mentor was that he would push you to do whatever it is you already wanted to do,” Polashenski noted. “One afternoon I said something to him grumbling about why the DOC hasn’t built a new cabin in a long time, and he goes, ‘Great, why don’t you start building one?’”

He added that Harvard served as a mentor to hundreds of students during his time at the DOC, inspiring them “to not accept the world as immutable.”

Harvard’s firing prompted an outpouring of support for Andy — as well as anger toward the administration — from the Dartmouth alumni community and student body. Kathy Harvard noted that the support of the community comforted Andy in the wake of losing his position.

“He got his Dartmouth back — the Dartmouth that really mattered, which was about relationships and friends and mentors and people who care,” she said.

Svati Narula ’13, who came to know Harvard after his health had already begun to deteriorate, voiced her frustration over the College administration’s treatment of Harvard.

“If you look at all the literature that the College puts out now about what it wants to teach students and about the kinds of experiences it wants us to have while we’re there, Andy had exactly that,” she said. “Andy’s legacy at Dartmouth could’ve been so much different if things hadn’t ended the way they did with the administration.” 

There will be a celebration of Harvard’s life in June, according to Kathy Harvard. 

“Andy loved snow and ice for sure,” she noted. “But I feel instinctively that I want to do something at a time where the hills are green and the river is flowing, and they could be part of whatever kind of celebration we put together.”

She added that she hopes her husband will be remembered for his positivity and perseverance.

“I think what he leaves behind is the message that there’s no challenge too big for humankind to deal with,” she said. “Whether it’s one person’s challenge, or whether it’s a much bigger societal issue like Alzheimer’s, Andy would say there’s always a way to tackle it.”