W. Robert Higgins, University President

December 29, 2009|By Jacques Kelly

W. Robert Higgins, a retired American history professor who headed Southeastern University in Washington, died of dementia Sunday at the Keswick Multi-Care Center. The Mount Vernon resident was 71.

Born in Gaffney, S.C., he earned undergraduate and master's degrees in history from the University of South Carolina and a doctorate from Duke University, where he met his future wife, the former Eva Poythress, who sells residential real estate in Baltimore.

Dr. Higgins, who was known as Rob, served in the Navy from 1959 to 1963 in the Pacific aboard the aircraft carriers USS Hornet, Kearsarge and Yorktown. He later retired as a commander in the Naval Reserves.

After teaching at Murray State University in Murray, Ky., he moved to Baltimore in 1974 to pursue post-graduate studies at the Johns Hopkins University. He focused on the financial history of the American Revolution and the African slave trade.

He was president of Southeastern University in Washington from 1982 to 1994. In this capacity, he traveled extensively to Taiwan, Pakistan and the Arab Emirates to supervise the school's overseas divisions.

Nearly 35 years ago, Dr. Higgins and his wife purchased a 19th-century home on St. Paul Street. He oversaw its conversion from a former American Legion post to a private residence.

With an interest in historic preservation, he was active in the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association and appeared before local boards and commissions on zoning and architectural preservation issues.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Cathedral and Read streets, where he was a member.

In addition to his wife of 43 years, survivors include two sons, Mirabeau L. Higgins of Istanbul, Turkey, and Randle Whitfield Higgins of Washington; a brother, Dr. James T. Higgins of Stephentown, N.Y.; and a sister, Suzanne H. Shennan of Greer, S.C.

- Jacques Kelly

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