James Isbell Armstrong
Hanover, N.H. — James Isbell Armstrong, President Emeritus of Middlebury College and Classicist, died on Monday, Dec. 16, 2013, at the age of 94 at his home in Hanover. Armstrong was born to William Park Armstrong, Jr. and Rebekah Sellers Purves on April 20, 1919, in Princeton, N.J. as the youngest of six children. His father was Professor of New Testament Greek and Exegesis at the Princeton Theological Seminary. He attended Miss Fine’s School, the Princeton Country Day School, the Taft School and Princeton University where he graduated with Phi Beta Kappa honors in 1941. Upon graduation, Armstrong served for five and half years in the Army, largely in the Pacific Theater beginning in Hawaii and ending in Manila. He participated in the landing at Leyte and was honorably discharged at the rank of Captain in 1946. After WWII, Armstrong assisted with the Returning Veterans Program at Princeton University where he was offered a teaching fellowship (early Woodrow Wilson Fellow) and received his Ph.D. in Classics (1949). He married Carol Penrhyn Aymar of Darien, Conn. on Nov. 1, 1942. In his judgment and that of many others it was the best venture of his life. She became the still point in the turning wheel for the rest of his personal and professional life. In 1947, Armstrong began a career in teaching and administration at Princeton where he was a member of the Classics Department and a Homeric scholar; there he rose to the rank of Associate Professor (1960) and served as Assistant and Associate Dean of the Graduate School (1958-62). These years were enriched by a year teaching at Indiana University (1949-50) and a Senior Fellowship at the American Academy in Rome (Prix de Rome, 1955-56). In 1951, Armstrong was recalled to active duty and served for a year in the Korean War.
In 1963, Armstrong was appointed President of Middlebury College where he and Carol served for 12 years. Under his leadership the College grew in stature and size, helping to create the international reputation as a premier liberal arts institution that Middlebury enjoys today. During these years Bates College, Grinnell College and his alma mater recognized his contributions to higher education, awarding Armstrong honorary degrees. Middlebury followed suit during his years as President and Director of the Dana Foundation (1975-81). Armstrong also served as trustee at Princeton University and the Hazen Foundation, as a member of the advisory council of the Braitmayer Foundation and as a director at Merrill Lynch.
Armstrong and his wife Carol moved to a continuing care retirement community in 1991 as early residents of the newly built Kendal at Hanover. They enjoyed joining with fellow residents to build and develop their community and improve Kendal’s facilities. Armstrong served as Interim Executive Director in 1995 and also on its Board of Directors. Their beloved farm and friends in Maine were their anchor to windward from the early years of their marriage. Nurturing three children, growing a vegetable garden, haying, wooding, flying a Cessna 150, baking apple pies in the wood stove, hooking rugs and caring for a 150-year-old farm house were the natural counterpoint to their educational pursuits.
Armstrong was predeceased by his daughter, Cary Tall Rothe. He is survived by his wife of 71 years, Carol Aymar Armstrong (Hanover, N.H.); his children, James I. Armstrong, Jr. (Williamsburg, Va.) and Elizabeth L. Armstrong (Lewisburg, Pa.); and six grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, at 2 p.m. at Kendal at Hanover. Memorial donations may be made to the Cadbury Fund of Kendal at Hanover (Brent Edgerton, Associate Executive Director, (603) 643-8900 or BEdger@kah.kendal.org) or Middlebury College.