The Forum | General Education

In Memoriam: A. Graham Down

September 2, 2014 by Michael B. Poliakoff

It is with both sadness and admiration that we mark the passing of A. Graham Down on August 30, 2014.

Graham Down lived a long and vigorous life as an educator, humanist, and concert musician; one could not be with him for more than a few moments without sensing his passion for high academic standards, the liberal arts, and the monuments of civilization. He did not hesitate to articulate his deep belief that these things matter profoundly for our society and for each individual.

And share he did. Anyone who had the privilege of seeing Graham at the keyboard not only heard a superb performance, but also sensed the sublime pleasure that he drew from communicating that beauty to his audience. The small concerts that he regularly held at his home were highlights of Washington cultural life.

He was at the very center of several crucial initiatives in higher education and in teacher preparation. He served as Acting Director of the College Board’s Advanced Placement Program and was Executive Director and President of the Council for Basic Education during the twenty years of its most important national work.

ACTA remembers him as a devoted and inspiring friend: he was our gracious host when ACTA held the 2009 Merrill Award Dinner for Outstanding Contributions to the Liberal Arts, honoring Professor K.C. Johnson at the Cosmos Club. Last year, as Branch President of the English Speaking Union, he hosted an important discussion on the future of higher education at which ACTA was privileged to take part.

Graham’s final day on earth was characteristic of his life and career. The afternoon before he died, he celebrated his 85th birthday at the Cosmos Club in the company of nearly one hundred of his close friends and colleagues. He spoke with grace and erudition of the work that lies before us in advancing learning and culture. And he shared with me words of encouragement about ACTA’s work. ACTA will miss this scholar, gentleman, and friend; we cherish his memory.  


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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