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John David Maguire: CGU president, civil rights activist, champion for racial equality

Longtime CGU president, civil rights activist, lifelong champion for racial equality

Family, friends, and community members from Claremont and across the nation whose lives were touched during his lifetime are mourning the loss of John David Maguire, 86, who died October 26 after suffering a massive stroke.

A resident of Claremont, he was an accomplished civil rights activist, president emeritus of Claremont Graduate University, and a formative agent of change who inspired the lives of many through his example, his family shared.

Born in 1932 in Montgomery, Alabama to John Henry and Clyde (Merrill) Maguire, he married Lillian (“Billie”) Louise Parrish in August 1953 after graduating magna cum laude from Washington and Lee University. During his collegiate years, John played football and was an active leader in the community, overcoming the struggles of a racially-divided South.

After being awarded a Fulbright Scholarship at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland in 1953, he completed a year of advanced studies in philosophy and religion before returning to the United States to enroll in Yale University’s Divinity School, where he graduated summa cum laude in 1956. He went on to complete his PhD at Yale in 1960, before engaging in postdoctoral research at Yale University; the University of Tubingen, Germany; University of California, Berkeley; and Silliman University in the Philippines.

Mr. Maguire, one of the original Freedom Riders, notably began a 17-year friendship with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. after meeting him at a conference at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania as a sophomore in college. Following Mr. King’s death in 1968, he served as life director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Social Change, chairing the board during its initial year (1968-69). For nine years he led the west coast advisory committee of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Board, and in 1989 he was appointed to the Task Force on Increasing Minority Participation in Higher Education of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

Mr. Maguire’s numerous achievements included co-founding of the Kingsley and Kate Tufts Poetry Award, the world’s largest monetary prize for a single collection of poetry, in 1993;  several grant awards, including one from the Marguerite Casey Foundation to study and publish “Organizing Communities to Dismantle Racism That Impacts Children, Youth and Families” in 2003; a Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal in 2009; and being the longest-tenured president in the history of Claremont Graduate University, just one leadership position in an esteemed academic career that encompassed many roles, including president of State University of New York College at Old Westbury.

Mr. Maguire also authored numerous scholarly articles and served in various roles on several foundations, including president of the Long Island Community Foundation, president of the Pomona Valley Hospital Foundation, and trustee of the Lincoln Foundation. Throughout his life he was passionately committed to groundbreaking efforts to combat institutional racism and remedy race-based disparities in education, healthcare delivery, economic development and criminal justice.

Reflecting on her father’s life, his daughter Anne shared that he “dedicated his life to build CGU into a premier institution and assure the educational experience for all students would prepare them to make a difference in the world. He never faltered from believing each and every student had the capacity to become leaders who would make a difference.”

Following his retirement as president of CGU, he maintained an active kinship with the university. In 1998 he founded the Institute for Democratic Revival, which provided hands-on engagement with and scholarly reflection on the core issues facing the institutions and processes of democracy in the United States and abroad.

The institute’s initial project, Renewing Democracy Through Interracial/Multicultural Community Building, ran from 1998 through 2001 and led to the production and publication of the widely used Community Builder’s Tool Kit: A Primer for Revitalizing Democracy from the Ground Up, which has more than 70,000 copies in print, in six languages. As an educator and arts patron, he was one of the founding members of the Claremont Museum of Art and was honored at its 2008 art gala for his dedication and commitment to its development.

He was preceded in death by his sister, Merrill Skaggs, of Madison, New Jersey. 

Mr. Maguire is survived by his wife Lillian (“Billie”), a resident of Mt. San Antonio Gardens; daughters Catherine Maguire of Palmyra, Virginia; Mary Maguire of Montpelier, Virginia; and Anne Turner of Claremont; grandchildren Andrew Turner, Bryce Campanelli, Keegan Campanelli and Livingstone Sitzman; and his sister, Martha Worsley, of Jacksonville, Florida. 

His services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, December 1 at Claremont United Church of Christ, 233 Harrison Ave., Claremont, followed by a reception.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Mr. Maguire’s name to Claremont Graduate University at cgu.edu/give.