Richard W. Lyman was born in Philadelphia on October 18, 1923.
Lyman began his undergraduate studies at Swarthmore College in 1940, but his education was interrupted when he was drafted for military service in 1943. He served in the Army Air Forces Weather Service until 1946. He graduated from Swarthmore in 1947 and went on to complete both a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in history at Harvard University.
While a doctoral student specializing in contemporary British history, he was named a Fulbright Fellow, an opportunity that allowed him to spend a year studying at the London School of Economics. He also spent his summers earning money by writing articles for The Economist.
Lyman went on to teach history at Harvard, Swarthmore, and Washington University in St. Louis. In 1958, just after the publication of his first book The First Labour Government, 1924, he accepted a position as an associate professor at Stanford University. By 1962 he had been promoted to full professor. Two years later Lyman was named Associate Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford, and he later served as University Provost. By 1970 he was appointed President of Stanford, a position he held for ten years, during which time he successfully increased the University’s revenues and enrollment.
Lyman’s tenure was also characterized by the political unrest and demands for change that affected many university campuses during this time. While he worked to diversify the student body and personally opposed the Vietnam War, as president he faced violent student protests and university sit-ins that disrupted the order of campus life. In 2009 he recounted these years in Stanford in Turmoil: Campus Unrest, 1966-1972.
Lyman was offered the presidency of the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) in 1980 following the sudden death of John Knowles. Lyman had been a member of the RF Board of Trustees for four years and had also chaired its Commission on the Humanities. He took over the Foundation during a period of continuing evolution. He led initiatives in genetic engineering in agriculture, and he oversaw the mobilization of technology to support growth in the developing world. Closer to home, the Foundation looked for ways to combat poverty in America’s inner cities, and RF support encouraged multimedia artists and emerging filmmakers.
Lyman retired from the RF in 1988 and returned to Stanford University in order to help establish the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. He served as the Institute’s director until 1991. In recognition of Lyman’s longstanding interest in the humanities and technology, in 2002 the RF allocated $500,000 to the National Humanities Center to create the Richard W. Lyman Award, which honored those who used information technology to advance the field of the humanities. This award was granted from 2002 to 2006.
Richard Lyman died of congestive heart failure in Palo Alto, California, on May 27, 2012. He was 88 years old.