In Memoriam: Richard Nault, who touched hundreds of student lives

By Donna Boen, editor of Miamian alumni magazine


Richard Nault

Mentor to many, friend to all. That was Richard Nault, who died Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, at his home in Oxford, Ohio.

Vice president emeritus for student affairs, Nault profoundly touched hundreds if not thousands of lives during his 25 years at Miami University.

“Dick was one of the kindest, most generous people I’ve ever known,” said Jayne Brownell, the current vice president for student life and one of Nault’s successors.

“He was one of those people who, whenever you saw him, made you feel like you were the best part of his day,” she said.

“When you look at the number of former students that he was still in touch with decades later, you get a sense of the lasting impact he had on people. He left a real legacy through his work, and just by being who he was.”

So, who was Richard L. Nault? The only son of a mother who taught and a father who worked in the steel mills of Gary, Indiana, he was a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan and the University of Chicago. He left Washington University in St. Louis to become associate director of Miami’s university honors program in 1983. Not long after, he was named the program’s director.

He went on to become dean of students and eventually vice president. In fact, then-President James Garland was so confident in Nault’s abilities that he appointed him vice president without a search and made the announcement at the 2002 State of the University address.

Nault was flabbergasted, both at the president’s decision that no search was needed and at the rousing standing ovation he received from the faculty and staff all around him in Hall Auditorium.

As impressive as he was on paper, he was even more so in person. No matter how busy, he always made time for anyone needing to talk or share a hug.

That may explain why in 1998 he became the first non-faculty member to be honored as the Alumni Association Effective Educator.

“Dick’s light illuminated the lives of all who knew him — colleagues, friends and especially students — in brilliant and loving ways,” said Kip Alishio, director emeritus of the university’s student counseling service. He appreciated Dick as a close friend as well as a colleague.

“All of his relationships started on a base of love, and one could not help but be impacted by knowing Dick. Everyone was authentically special to him,” Alishio said.

Tears and laughter


Alumni from the 1980s enjoyed a Bishop Hall/Honors Program reunion honoring Nault (middle row, left) during Homecoming Weekend, Sept. 7, 2019.

The love was clearly mutual and on display this week as former students shared their sorrow and affection.

Scott Allman, who graduated in 1992, said on Facebook, “He’s one of those people that simply isn’t supposed to die. Ever. He’s always there for you, no matter what.

“Yet, today I join the loud chorus of thousands mourning the loss of our beloved friend Richard Nault. My years knowing him as a cherished mentor and educator while at Miami only served to foster the deeper friendship my family and I enjoyed with him in my adult life. Dick was a true saint, and today he has returned home. We will miss him dearly, but today the angels are surely singing … thank you for everything, Dr. Nault!”

Other alumni offering their own impromptu social media eulogies told of how he attended their weddings, showed up with Miami bibs for their newborns, and drove hours to participate in their reunions.

Those who knew him would not be surprised to hear that one of the anecdotes focused on “The” wedding gift. In a 2002 Miamian article that ran when he became vice president, Nault shared his concept of the perfect matrimonial present.

“I always ordered turkey platters because I figured everyone needed a turkey platter to symbolize Thanksgiving and family, but after a while, once people saw me arriving at weddings, they’d say, ‘What turkey platter do you have now?’ ”

He vowed to demonstrate more variety, which resulted in one newly married couple writing in their thank-you, “Your gift was very nice, but what happened to the turkey platter?”

At this point in the story, Nault likely laughed. He loved a good guffaw, especially when others joined in.

“Dick was an incredible human being,” said Robin Parker, the university’s general counsel and dear friend. Up until she was married, Nault was her date to every Charter Day Ball.

“He was just so gentle and sweet. He was everybody else’s support,” Parker said

Before her wedding, he surprised her with an all-male wedding shower, complete with shop towels disguised as dinner napkins, the kind usually reserved for wiping off a bug-splattered windshield at a gas station.

His light lives on

Kathy Prescott, who worked with Nault the last 20 years of her 37 at Miami, said those years were the best, and he made her more caring.

“Dick was the kind of person who had so many good ideas with very little effort in getting them started. He was a kind and caring person who knew what to do in any situation,” Prescott said. “He taught me so much, and I will be forever grateful to him. Dick was the best boss. He will be in our hearts forever and will be sorely missed.”

Of course, everyone has a couple of quirks, and he was no exception. Anyone walking across campus with him learned to stop when he spotted a paperclip on the ground. He always picked it up to use later.

A dedicated swimmer, he opened the rec center at 6 a.m. every morning for years. He was also an avid gardener with a vehement vendetta against any deer who helped themselves to his dahlias. A genuinely spiritual man, he was an active member at Oxford’s Holy Trinity Church and a longtime adviser to Kappa Alpha.

“He was living proof that you don’t have to be the loudest voice in the room to be the most powerful,” Parker said.

From Nault’s perspective, everybody he met was, to quote him directly, the “most wonderful person in the world.”

That’s why, Alishio said, “Dick’s light will live on in the hearts of all who knew him around the world.”

Information about services for Nault is not yet available.