The Marine Sciences Building at UConn Avery Point will be renamed to honor former Connecticut Gov. Lowell Weicker Jr., whose public service spans several decades and included significant support for UConn and its marine sciences research.
The UConn Board of Trustees voted unanimously on Wednesday to approve the name change, which will be made official later this fall with an event at the Avery Point campus.
“Lowell, as you know, was a champion for marine sciences and a champion for Avery Point. The idea that the Marine Sciences Building would become the Lowell P. Weicker Jr. Marine Sciences Building means a lot,” said Gov. Ned Lamont, who joined the trustees meeting to support the proposal.
“We’re a maritime state, and I like to reinforce that every time I can. It’s not just subs and the Coast Guard and ports – it’s also what we can be as a leader in marine sciences,” Lamont added, noting that UConn “is at the very forefront and will continue to be.”
“Being able to put a stake in the ground and say, ‘Lowell P. Weicker Jr. Marine Sciences Building’ would reinforce that, and would mean a lot to the State of Connecticut,” Lamont said.
Weicker served his hometown of Greenwich, the State of Connecticut, and the U.S. in public office for more than three decades, including a four-year term from 1991 to 1995 as Connecticut’s first independent governor since the Civil War.
“His proud legacy of public service in Connecticut and the nation as well as his courage in the face of major challenges on behalf of his state and his constituents is such that the University of Connecticut should name a major facility in his honor,” the resolution adopted Wednesday by the Board of Trustees reads.
Weicker, a graduate of Yale University and University of Virginia Law School, started his career in public service as a Republican member of the Connecticut House of Representatives from 1963-69, also serving concurrently as Greenwich’s First Selectman for four of those years.
He served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives, then was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1970, a position he held through 1989. Among his accomplishments were serving on the Senate Watergate Committee, sponsoring the Protection and Advocacy for Mentally Ill Individuals Act in 1985, introducing legislation in 1988 that would become the Americans with Disabilities Act, and many other initiatives and achievements.
He also advocated oceanic research, helping to establish UConn as a national Sea Grant institution and a national Undersea Research Center. As governor, he also helped secure a $50 million grant for the Avery Point Marine Sciences building that will now bear his name.
It’s not far from another sign of UConn’s gratitude to Weicker: the R/V Lowell Weicker, a research vessel christened with his name in 2006. That vessel is equipped with laboratory space and other amenities to aid UConn’s research into the coastal environment of the Long Island Sound.
“I had the opportunity and good fortune to work with Gov. Weicker back in the 1990s … as Gov. Lamont says, this is of great interest to him,” Trustee Thomas Ritter, a former state legislator, said of Weicker’s work to promote marine sciences research. “This is a very appropriate tribute to an excellent governor and someone who did a lot for the State of Connecticut in so many ways, but especially in this.”
Weicker was known as an outspoken and independent-minded politician, traits that were evident during his gubernatorial term when he advocated the establishment of a state income tax in Connecticut to address major state budget problems.
“Let’s face it – he’s one cantankerous son of a gun, but he’s also made some tough choices along the way and personally speaking I think the state is better for it,” Lamont said Wednesday.
According to the Museum of Connecticut History, the state’s budget deficit was $963 million when Weicker entered office in 1991. After lengthy political battles, the state adopted an income tax that summer and, by the end of fiscal year 1992, Connecticut had a surplus of $110 million and continued in the black for the next two fiscal years.
He received the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for that effort. The John F. Kennedy Library, which bestows the award, said at the time: “Governor Weicker demonstrated extraordinary political courage in this battle. He risked his career by challenging the status quo and the popular bipartisan anti-income tax tradition.
“Despite intense political and public criticism, threats to his safety, and large-scale bitter protests, he persevered and finally prevailed in this fight,” the statement continued. “His steadfast leadership on this major issue stands as a reminder for all American citizens and officials that governments at every level in this country can and must find the resources needed to meet their obligations to the people they serve.”
UConn Trustee Sanford Cloud Jr., a longtime friend of Weicker’s, called him “a great governor at a very critical time in our state. This is a very fine and appropriate honor to him and his work.”