WATERVILLE — The Colby College community is mourning the loss of its longest-serving president, who died on the day he turned 87 years old.

Former Colby College President William R. Cotter is seen in 1999, a year before he left the top administrative job at the Waterville college. Morning Sentinel file

William R. Cotter, who served for 21 years as president of Colby, died Thursday at his home in Concord, Massachusetts, according to his obituary. Cotter was president of the private Waterville college from 1979 to 2000 and then served as a lifetime member of its board of trustees.

“He carried this deep love of teaching through the rest of his life,” the college said in an article to the Colby community. An unusual college president without a Ph.D., during his time as president he was pleased to receive five honorary degrees. He was especially proud of his work at Colby to strengthen its national academic reputation, build its endowment, and make it a more inclusive community.

In the article to the Colby community, the college said Cotter guided Colby “through a period of brisk growth and lasting institutional change.” As Colby’s top administrator and fundraiser, Cotter also was described by the college as a dedicated and skilled teacher who taught a Law and Social Change course.

Colby’s current president, David A. Greene, said in a statement that Cotter “will forever be remembered for his remarkable accomplishments.”

A Morning Sentinel news clipping from coverage of the Colby College graduation ceremonies in May 2000, when William Cotter last served as college president.

“He was undoubtedly one of Colby’s all-time great leaders, having transformed the college into a national model of excellence. He was fearless in his work, driven by a steady moral compass and an unshakeable belief in the power of education to improve lives and the world,” Greene said. “He was a humanitarian at heart and in his work, a trait that guided him throughout his life. And he was a teacher in both words and actions, whether it was about the U.S. judicial system, the fight for civil rights and progress, or what it means to live a good and purposeful life.”

Greene noted that Cotter was most proud of his family, particularly his wife, Linda, who died two years ago; and their three children.

Outgoing Colby College President William R. Cotter, right, shakes hands with James Crawford, chair of the board of trustees, as Cotter receives an honorary degree during commencement exercises in Waterville on May 21, 2000. Cotter died Thursday at age 87. Morning Sentinel file

“While my heart breaks today,” Greene said, “I could not be more grateful for my friendship with the Cotters, who taught me more than I could ever express.”

The college said that under Cotter’s leadership, Colby raised its academic standards, diversified its student body and faculty makeup, dramatically increased the endowment from $23 million to more than $300 million toward new investments, constructed new buildings, and added more than a dozen academic disciplines. That leadership “raised Colby’s stature as a leading liberal arts college,” the college article said, “and his work at Colby earned him a reputation as an innovator in the field of higher education.”

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