The second President of Stony Brook University, John Sampson Toll, passed away Friday, July 15, 2011, of natural causes at Fox Hill Assisted Living in Bethesda, Maryland. He was 87.
Dr. Toll graduated with highest honors from Yale University in 1944. After serving in the Navy during World War II, he completed post-graduate studies at Princeton University in 1952. While at Princeton, he helped establish Project Matterhorn, now known as the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. He worked in the Theoretical Physics Division of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory and as associate director of Project Matterhorn before turning to teaching.
In 1953 he joined the University of Maryland faculty and served for 13 years as chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy until he was appointed president and professor of physics at Stony Brook University in 1965 where he served for 13 years. When he departed Stony Brook in 1978, the small college of 1,800 students and 240 full- and part-time faculty had been built to a significant research institution of 17,000 students and 1,250 faculty. During his tenure, in addition to fully establishing the colleges of arts and sciences and engineering, Dr. Toll added schools of public affairs, medicine, dentistry, nursing, allied health professions, basic health sciences, and social work. For his contributions to Stony Brook University, Dr. Toll was listed among “100 Who Shaped the Century” by Newsday.
According to Stony Brook University’s fourth President, Shirley Strum Kenny, “John Toll was a visionary and a builder. He transformed a fledgling Long Island teacher’s college into a world-class research university. He did it with inventiveness, drive, and a determination that would not be stopped.
“It was an extraordinary match—a campus with unrealized potential and a man who saw what could be created. He moved far and fast—no easy task in academia—to make this great University. Stony Brook would not be Stony Brook were there no Johnny Toll.”
Dr. Toll left Stony Brook to become president of the University of Maryland until 1988 when he was appointed chancellor of the University of Maryland System. In 1989 he served as president of Universities Research Association, a consortium of universities with research programs in high-energy physics that operates the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory—so appointed by Stony Brook University’s third President, John H. Marburger, III, when he was chairman of the URA board of trustees. When Congress proposed to build the Superconducting Super Collider, URA was asked to expand its role to include oversight of that project. When budget pressures led Congress to cancel the project, Dr. Toll returned to the University of Maryland in 1994 where he served as chancellor emeritus and professor of physics.
Jack Marburger said of John Toll, “My career has been amazingly entangled with John S. Toll’s. Even more remarkably, Johnny chaired the University of Maryland physics department and judged a state-wide science fair there during the 1950s in which I won second prize for a project on the effect of a magnetic field on the hydrogen spectrum.
“While I never collaborated with Toll on physics research, we often saw each other at higher education events and when he came to Long Island for family visits. I learned much from his insights about Stony Brook and its tremendous assets as a research university, for which he of course deserves much credit. He remained a great friend to Stony Brook and always enjoyed visiting the campus during his later careers.”
In 1995 Dr. Toll started his 10-year tenure as president of Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, where he is hailed as having elevated the institution’s national reputation, strengthened its academic standing, improved the campus aesthetics, and quadrupled the College’s endowment.
Dr. Toll was a fellow of the American Physical Society, the New York Academy of Sciences and the Washington Academy of Sciences, and a member and former national chairman of the Federation of American Scientists. He served as chairman of three advisory panels for the U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment, and as chairman of advisory panels in physics for the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
“I regret not having had the opportunity to meet John Toll in person,” said current Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D., “but I say without hesitation he was one of the leaders in higher education in the United States and was a transforming force for several colleges and universities. His impact on Stony Brook cannot be underestimated; he truly set the University on a march toward excellence. With his focus on recruiting outstanding faculty, including Nobel laureate Dr. C.N. Yang, he laid the foundation for Stony Brook’s rapid ascent. We owe him much, and his legacy remains in our faculty and their commitment to quality.”
In addition to his wife of 40 years, Deborah Taintor Toll, he is survived by daughter Dacia and her husband Jeffrey Klaus; daughter Caroline and her husband Nick Vetter; and a grandson, John Blaese Toll Klaus.
Stony Brook University will hold a memorial celebration for Dr. Toll on Wednesday, September 21, in conjunction with the University Convocation at 4:00 pm in the Staller Center. At the request of Deborah Toll, donations may be made in lieu of flowers to the John Sampson Toll Fund for Outstanding Teaching at Stony Brook University. Please contact the Office of Advancement at (631) 632-6300 for details.