WASHINGTON -- Lloyd H. Elliott, a low-key president of George Washington University who helped shepherd its transition from a regional commuter school in the mid-1960s to an institution of growing academic prominence in the late 1980s, died Jan. 1 at the university's hospital in Washington.
Elliott was 94 and had a brain hemorrhage after falling twice, his family said.
During his tenure as GWU president from 1965 to 1988, Elliott sought to steer clear of political battles and guard the independence of a university that lies just a few blocks from the White House.
At the height of national upheaval during the Vietnam War, students and others from around the country descended on Washington for antiwar protests. Many slept at GWU's campus, using it as a shelter, before heading to the White House, the Pentagon or the Mall for demonstrations.
Elliott's former colleagues said he sought to keep the campus running, with minimal disturbance, while preserving freedom of speech for students.
One day in 1970, Elliott criticized D.C. police for "excessive use of force and indiscriminate arrests" in connection with a demonstration that started outside the Watergate apartment complex and then spilled onto campus.
"This was a potential tinderbox during the entire Vietnam period," said Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who succeeded Elliott as president of the university. "He handled that brilliantly, with a calmness I could only aspire to." In another test of his leadership in 1987, Elliott denied a federal request to allow international news media to use a campus gymnasium as a press center during a superpower summit meeting between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
A White House spokesman called Elliott's decision "narrow-minded." Some students complained that the university lost priceless international exposure. But Elliott was more worried about possible disruption to students and classes shortly before exams.
"It all depends on what you put first: the programs of the university or something in the way of a long grab for publicity," Elliott later told The Washington Post. "I thought the decision was as simple as that."
In October 1966, Elliott showed a playful side to his leadership style that dovetailed with his desire to make friends among GWU students. That month, a headline in The Post declared that windows had been "smashed at GW." Bricks had been hurled at a campus house. But this was no riot. It turned out that the house was about to be demolished to make way for a new student union.
Elliott, after conferring with the student council president, had come up with a novel start to the demolition. A picture in the newspaper showed Elliott, resembling a right-handed baseball pitcher, "hurling the first brick."