William Garvey, former Mercyhurst president, dies at 81
William P. Garvey, a former Mercyhurst University president and founding president of the Erie-based Jefferson Educational Society, died Wednesday at the LECOM Senior Living Center, according to a Jefferson Educational Society spokesman.
Garvey was 81. He served as president of the Jefferson Society from its founding in 2008 until June, when he succeeded former Erie Mayor Joyce Savocchio as the Jefferson Society’s chairman of the board.
Garvey, who started teaching at Mercyhurst in 1962, retired as the school’s president in 2005 after he was accused of sexually and physically abusing minor boys in the 1960s and 1970s, while he was the boys’ grade-school basketball coach for the school at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Erie. Also, two men said Garvey had sex with them in the early to mid-1980s when they were minors.
Garvey denied the allegations, which the Erie Times-News first reported in October 2004. He refused repeated requests to be interviewed on the claims. In December 2004 — after a college-paid investigation, led by retired Erie County Judge Michael M. Palmisano, wrote a confidential memo to the Mercyhurst board of trustees that said the claims against Garvey “appear to have merit” — Garvey announced his intention to retire the following February.
He was never charged. The statute of limitations would have prevented prosecution of any of the allegations that were made public.
Garvey, an Oil City native, was an educator, historian and lecturer throughout his life.
He authored the book, “Erie, Pennsylvania MAYORS: 150 Years of Political History,” which was published in April.
Garvey earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Gannon University in 1957. He served for five years as a history teacher, department chairman and junior varsity basketball coach at Pittsburgh’s North Catholic High School.
Garvey also taught at Duquesne University in the education department. He earned his master’s degree in 1957 and his Ph.D. in 1970 in history from the University of Pittsburgh.
Garvey joined the Mercyhurst College faculty in 1962 as chairman of the education department and later served as chairman of the social science department. He was vice president of academic affairs and dean of the college from 1969 to 1976 before serving in Erie County government. He returned to Mercyhurst in 1978 to direct the college’s first graduate program in criminal justice.
In July 1980, Garvey was appointed the ninth president of Mercyhurst College. During his 25-year tenure as president, Mercyhurst developed programs of regional and national recognition in anthropology and intelligence studies.
During his tenure, Mercyhurst grew from 1,100 to 4,100 students — 3,300 on its main campus and 800 in a branch campus in North East. While president, Mercyhurst College invested more than $46 million in 25 construction projects and renovations. Garvey also raised $38 million in three capital campaigns.
Garvey served as chairman of the 1995 Greater Erie Bicentennial Commission and, as the guiding force behind the city’s 200th-year celebration, he received the Louis J. Tullio Community Service Award from the Erie Chamber of Commerce.
Garvey was inducted into the Metropolitan Erie Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 1998, and in 1999, he received the John L. Robison Humanitarian Award from the Boys and Girls Club of Erie.
Mercyhurst President Michael T. Victor said Wednesday evening the school will sound the carillon bells on its Erie campus for each of Garvey’s 25 years at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday. In addition, Mercyhurst flags on both the Erie and North East campuses will be lowered to half-staff for a week.
“It is with deep sadness that the Mercyhurst University community acknowledges the death of its ninth and longest-serving president, Dr. William P. Garvey. A visionary leader, Dr. Garvey guided the college through a period of tremendous growth and dynamism during his tenure,” Victor said.
Funeral arrangements were not set as of Wednesday evening.