John Sampson Toll, a gifted physicist and founding chancellor of the University System of Maryland, died Friday of heart failure at the Fox Hill assisted-living Facility in Bethesda. He was 87.
Dr. Toll, an indefatigable worker who led three institutions of higher learning in his six decades in education, was credited by friends and colleagues with bringing national recognition to each of the colleges and universities he had a hand in steering.
"Maryland higher education is now nationally known because of the foundation he and others laid decades ago," said Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
William E. "Brit" Kirwan, the university system chancellor who worked with Dr. Toll off and on for 30 years, said Dr. Toll had a clear vision of what he wanted the Maryland system to become and he never stopped talking about it.
"He was very self-effacing. He was very warm and gracious but always deferential to others," Dr. Kirwan said.
He also was seen as a giant at Washington College in Chestertown, which he led for a decade. An accomplished fundraiser, he moved Washington College from an institution with three years of deficits to one that balanced its budget and tripled its endowment.
"He lifted the profile of the college dramatically. We raised the largest amount of money raised for a private college in Maryland with the exception of Johns Hopkins," said Jack S. Griswold, who was chairman of the board of trustees when Dr. Toll was recruited to become president.
He exceeded the fundraising goal by more than 40 percent, increasing the endowment from $27 million to $112.4 million, according to the college.