Peter Baigent was a longtime Stony Brook University administrator who committed his professional career to improving access to higher education and the student experience.
He held several leadership posts over the course of 24 years, including vice president for student affairs and president of the Faculty Student Association, the school’s nonprofit corporation responsible for campus activities, events, dining and some scholarships.
Baigent, 71, of Head of the Harbor, died Sunday at Stony Brook University Hospital of complications from a rare autoimmune disease, said his daughter, Blair Gordon of Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.
“He was always focused on the students and what the university could do best for them,” she said.
Baigent was a prominent campus figure, with British sensibilities and a love of the outdoors and gardening. He enjoyed running and participated in several charity events in the Three Village area.
He had a penchant for hydrangeas and was very proud to have successfully created a vertical garden.
“He was never afraid to get his hands dirty on any project,” said his longtime partner, Sally Lynch.
She called him “a wonderful mixture of academic bookishness and the outdoors” with an optimistic outlook for taking on projects to make higher education better.
“Whether it was policy creation, staff development or creating and engendering a welcoming community, Peter’s vision and top priority always remained clear — care for our students and keep them safe,” SBU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. said.
Many, however, might be surprised to know he also is credited with helping to make the 19th-century English game of rugby a recognized league sport in the United States more than 40 years ago.
In 2013, Baigent traveled to Houston, Texas to be honored as a co-founder of USA Rugby, the sport’s official nationally governing body. The popularity of the sport in America had stagnated after the 1920s until its resurgence in the 1960s and 1970s.
Born in Newcastle, England, Baigent was reared in Halifax by his parents Muriel and Norman Baigent, who worked in textiles and wool production. He attended the Crossley Heath School and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nottingham.
He came to the United States in 1972 for a doctoral program in education at Syracuse University. There, he founded a rugby team and represented the Eastern regional rugby union.
In 1975, four regional unions met in Chicago to create the U.S.A. Rugby Football Union, which later became USA Rugby.
Baigent continued to play the sometimes-fierce contact sport until 2010 — into his 60s.
In addition to his daughter and his companion, he is survived by his brother, Alastair Baigent of Halifax, England; son, Philip Baigent of Montauk; a son-in-law and a granddaughter.
A memorial is planned for a later date. Information will be posted on the Stony Brook University website.