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Published: Wednesday, 5/10/2006

Ex-president led Hillsdale College

Roche Roche
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HILLSDALE - George C. Roche III, 70, who in his 28-year tenure as president of Hillsdale College built the school's financial reserves and its conservative profile nationally, but who retired in 1999 after allegations that he'd had an affair with his son's wife, died Friday in his Louisville home. He was 70.

He died of a probable heart attack, officials at the Jefferson County coroner's office said.

Mr. Roche retired Nov. 10, 1999, nine days after being placed on a leave of absence, saying in a statement: "I am nearly 65 years of age and have no wish to continue."

Allegations had arisen that he had a long-running affair with his daughter-in-law after the woman, Lissa Roche, committed suicide the previous month.

A police report indicated the woman was despondent over the alleged affair and Mr. Roche's divorce and remarriage. Mr. Roche denied the affair and in a letter more than a year after his retirement challenged college officials to present evidence to the contrary.

"I don't think the truth will ever be known," said Frank Maisano, a 1989 Hillsdale graduate who was a student in a class that Mr. Roche taught.

Mr. Roche left behind "an institution that stands for something," said Mr. Maisano, a media relations consultant who represents industry on energy and environmental issues.

The college gained widespread attention in the late 1970s when it balked at efforts to make any school that takes federal funding subject to all federal regulations, including affirmative action. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the school in 1984.

"He ended up saying it doesn't matter. We won't take the money. We'll raise the money," Mr. Maisano said.

During Mr. Roche's presidency, the school's endowment rose from $4 million to $184 million. It was listed as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the Midwest in U.S. News and World Report rankings.

Mr. Roche's "principle was that ideas had consequences," Mr. Maisano said. "He meant what he said, and that's why he stuck to his guns. That's what made people want to go to Hillsdale College."

Mr. Roche in 1971 was appointed the 11th president of Hillsdale College. He received a bachelor of science degree from Regis College in Denver.

He received a master's degree in history and political science from the University of Colorado, from which he also received a doctorate.

He was the author of at least nine books and continued to write in retirement.

He was previously married to June Bernard Roche.

Surviving are his wife, Dean; sons, George IV and Jacob Roche; daughters, Muriel Peters and Maggie Murphy; sister, Peggy Brockway, and four grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements were not announced.

At Hillsdale College, "We'll be saying something about him at commencement this Saturday and at convocation next fall," said Doug Jeffrey, vice president for external affairs.

The family suggests tributes to the Foundation for Children with Autism at the University of Louisville or to St. Rose of Lima School, Hastings, Mich.



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