BEVERLY — Richard E. Wylie, who transformed Endicott College from a two-year college for women into a coeducational institution that offers doctoral programs, died Saturday night, just days before commencement ceremonies, the college said Sunday. He was 77.
He was remembered warmly as a dedicated president who vastly expanded Endicott’s enrollment, educational programs, and finances. Dr. Wylie was also as widely known for his mentoring of the students. He began as president in 1987.
“He would do anything willingly to help others. That’s why his students flocked around him and called him ‘Doc,’ ” Mary Wylie, his wife of 53 years, told the Globe in a phone interview Sunday. “He was beloved.”
The college is set to hold commencement ceremonies for graduate students on Thursday and for undergraduates on Saturday.
At Endicott’s campus in Beverly on Sunday, flags were lowered to half-staff, a somber note on a day when seniors were taking photos of themselves in caps and gowns around the school grounds.
“It’s a huge loss for a whole campus,” said Silvia Graf, a senior majoring in elementary education. “Almost everyone had a personal relationship with him. . . . He made the school into what it is today.”
Dr. Wylie had been ill for a few weeks, but the cause of death was not released. The college had already named an acting emergency president to serve in his place, said Cynthia Merkle, the chairwoman of the college’s board of trustees. The school will move ahead with commencement exercises as planned, she said.
Students said the college had previously informed them that Wylie would not speak at this year’s commencement.
Merkle said she can imagine what his message to graduates would have been.
“I think he would tell them, ‘Go forward, and make us proud,’ ” she said.
On Sunday, students visited the school’s Interfaith Chapel throughout the afternoon and evening to meet with counselors.
The college will offer counseling services again on Monday for students, faculty, and staff at its the chapel and the college’s counseling center, said Erin Hatch, a school spokeswoman.
Merkle said Dr. Wylie would be honored during the graduations, but further plans for a memorial weren’t yet determined by Sunday afternoon.
His family recalled him as a devoted husband, father, and grandfather, they said in a statement.
“He was a visionary with no problem too large to conquer. His sense of humor was infectious to all,” the statement said.
Dr. Wylie also always found the time to coach his children in hockey and baseball, they said, and he was an enthusiastic spectator at his children’s and grandchildren’s athletic and school events.
At Endicott, Dr. Wylie inherited a small school that had struggled with debts and had entertained at least one takeover bid from better-endowed schools.
“I have to believe a number of colleges would like to buy us,” Dr. Wylie told the Globe, soon after taking the reins. “If you are a college president in downtown Boston, a campus on the ocean must look pretty good.”
He oversaw a construction program that added 26 buildings to the campus, an achievement that earned him the nickname “hard hat president,” the college said.
He also oversaw the acquisition of about 100 acres to the school’s grounds, and in the final years of his tenure, the college’s endowment soared from less than $3 million to more than $150 million, the statement said.
“What he did for Endicott is unbelievable,”said Nick Grace, a sophomore marketing major. “He’s done so many things, and there’s construction going on all the time, and that’s because of his vision here.”
Under his leadership, enrollment soared from fewer than 500 students in the late 1980s to about 3,000 undergraduates and another 3,000 graduate students this year, said Bryan Cain, the college’s vice president of communications and marketing.
Dr. Wylie was also a strong advocate of Endicott’s alumni.
Merkle, who graduated from the school in 1977, said he recruited her about 10 years ago and she ultimately joined the trustees.
“He became a friend,” said Merkle. “He put his heart and soul into this school. . . . I just think he thrived with the opportunity to create. And the by-product is we have tremendous graduates coming out of Endicott.”
Current students remembered Dr. Wylie as an involved, humorous presence on campus known for inviting students to cookouts at his home, said Luke Hoeniger, a senior exercise science major.
He would take the time to learn students’ names — and demonstrate his “sweet and funny” personality, said Manuela Franco, a senior who worked with him directly as a presidential ambassador.
“All the events, everything, he was always there,” she said. “You don’t see often the president of [any other] school eating at the dining hall with the students or being at every single event.”
He was born in Newton and grew up in Needham, the son of the late James A. Wylie, a professor at Boston University, and Catherine (McCourt) Wylie.
He earned a bachelor’s degree from Plymouth State College in New Hampshire and a master’s and doctorate degrees from Boston University.
Dr. Wylie spent his entire career in education, beginning as a public school teacher in Gloucester, Needham, and Walpole. He later served as a department chairman at Temple University, a dean at the University of Colorado, and a vice president and dean at the then-Lesley College, according to Endicott College.
Along with his wife, Mary (Bateman) Wylie of Sudbury, Dr. Wylie leaves three sons, Christopher of Bridgewater, Brian of Middleton, and Gregory of Concord; a daughter Kathleen Rocco of Grafton; eight grandchildren, and a brother, James A. Wylie, Jr. of Ridgefield, Conn., according to the college.
Seniors said this week’s graduation ceremonies will not be the same without Dr. Wylie.
“It’s definitely going to be really sad without him there,” said Chelsea Ferreira, a senior interior design major.John Hilliard can be reached at email@example.com. J.D. Capelouto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.