Lewis B. Rome, former chairman of the University of Connecticut Board of Trustees, died July 1 after a long illness. He was 81.
Rome, commonly known as “Lew,” grew up in Hartford and Bloomfield. He earned his B.A. in history from UConn in 1954 and his LL.B. from the UConn School of Law in 1957.
Shortly after graduating, he founded his own law practice in Bloomfield, and he went on to found two larger law firms based in Hartford – Rome, Kennelly, and Klebanoff, and Rome McGuigan.
Rome served on the town council of Bloomfield during the 1960s, and became mayor of Bloomfield in 1965. He was also instrumental in the development of the Capitol Region Council of Governments.
Elected to the State Senate in 1970, he served first as Senate Majority Leader and later as Senate Minority Leader, and and also held leadership roles with the National Conference of State Legislatures.
As a legislator, he spearheaded the founding of UConn’s medical school, and served on UConn’s Task Force on Athletics from 1986 to 1989.
He was also an active member of the UConn Law School Foundation from 1975 to 1982, and served as president in 1980. He received an outstanding alumnus award from UConn Law in 1979, and a University Medal from UConn in 1997.
In 1982, he made an unsuccessful bid for Governor as the Republican candidate against Democratic incumbent William A. O’Neill. After his gubernatorial race, Rome focused his energies on other public causes, notably the University of Connecticut and the Mohegan Tribe.
He was appointed by Gov. Lowell Weicker to the UConn Board of Trustees, where he served as chairman from 1992 to 1997. During that time, he was instrumental in securing passage of the UConn 2000 legislation – the 10-year, $1 billion initiative to renew the University’s infrastructure. In recognition of his contributions, the South Campus residence complex commons building is named in his honor, Rome Commons.
Alongside unprecedented physical growth during Rome’s tenure as Board of Trustees chairman, the University posted significant gains as a research institution, in the arts, as a national basketball power in both the men’s and women’s game, as well as in other athletic programs, and increasingly it became a first choice for undergraduate study of an increasing number of the state’s most talented homegrown scholars, thanks in part to the Nutmeg Scholarship program that was his brainchild.
Rome was also at the center of a major push on the part of UConn and the New England Patriots to move the NFL team to Hartford, and called for the building of a new football stadium to be used by the Huskies, as well as by the Patriots. Although the deal was unsuccessful, the Huskies did get a new stadium – Rentschler Field – built in 2003.
“Lew Rome epitomized public service,” University President Susan Herbst and current chairman of the Board of Trustees Lawrence McHugh said in a joint statement. “His aspirations and ambitions for the University of Connecticut were boundless and his enthusiasm for the institution could not be contained.”
A private burial service was held on July 5. A public memorial celebration of his life will take place on Thursday, Aug. 20 at 2 p.m. at the Lewis B. Rome Commons Ballroom in Storrs.
The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the “Samantha Rome Nutmeg Scholarship Fund” at the University of Connecticut, c/o UConn Foundation, 2390 Alumni Drive, Storrs, CT 06269-3206.