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February 13, 2001
Contact: Tim Woodhull




Leo F. Cain, founding president of California State University, Dominguez Hills, dies at 91

Leo F. Cain, founding president of California State University, Dominguez Hills, died Sunday, February 11, after a brief illness. He was 91. Family members said the cause of death was lung cancer.

Appointed in 1962 to the presidency of CSU Dominguez Hills, the veteran educator retired in 1976, but remained active in various arenas on an assortment of issues that fostered numerous allies and friends – statewide as well as nationwide.

Cain’s passing in the 40th anniversary year of CSUDH struck particularly hard at the campus in Carson. He was remembered for having been a strong advocate of higher education during the turbulent 1960s, and was credited for having led CSUDH to become a leader in teacher education. 

“Leo Cain was present at the creation of this university,” university President

James E. Lyons, Sr. said Tuesday. “We are where we are today because of his wisdom at the start and his leadership during those early years, those most challenging times. Leo left Dominguez Hills at the age of 67, yet worked for another quarter-century on issues he cared most about, leaving higher education and our world a better place. He was –and remains for us today – an inspiration in the pride he took in steering our university through its founding. Because of all he did and all he stood for, people in our communities have access to a college education and a productive life. We are better people for having known him and served with him.”

Said former professor and administrator Gary Colbroth: “He had the difficult responsibility of leading a university at a time when higher education was in some turmoil. He had to supervise a university while building it from the ground up….

“He retained his sharp mind and good sense of humor into his 90s.” In fact, Colbroth said, Cain continued reading several newspapers a day to stay abreast of current events and the range of issues in which he was involved.

Cain was born July 30, 1909, in Chico, Calif. He received his bachelor’s degree from Chico State College and his master’s and doctorate degrees from Stanford University.

He began his career in higher education as a faculty member at San Jose State College, the University of Maryland, the University of Oklahoma, and San Francisco College. Then, he joined the ranks of administrators, serving as director of Special Education and developing a program for Exceptional Children – an area of expertise to which he would return throughout his career.

A former member of the Special Education Advisory  Committee of the United Cerebral Palsy Association, Cain was also past president of the Council for Exceptional Children. In 1953, he was named special consultant on Youth Problems in West Germany and, in 1961, was Chief of Party for the International Cooperative Administration study of the Liberian educational system.   

In 1957, Cain was named vice president of San Francisco State. Five years later, he was appointed president of CSUDH.

At the university during the decade of the 1960s, Cain was known for meeting with students to discuss their grievances, once allowing them to occupy his conference room during the night with the understanding they would have to be gone by the next day because he had meetings scheduled. They complied, even cleaning up after themselves before leaving.

Observed Colbroth: “He was a good man. He was always very reluctant to say petty or unfair things about any other person. Indeed, he was an old fashioned gentleman…. The family has my sympathy…”

Persons wishing to contribute in the memory of Leo Can may do so by giving to the Cain Scholarship Fund. Donations should be sent to CSUDH Emeriti Faculty Association, California State University, Dominguez Hills, Office of the President, Scholarship Committee, Carson, CA, 90747.

Cain is survived by three daughters, Barbara Cain Miller, Nancy Cain, and Caroline Cain Detweiler, and by four grandchildren.

Services will be Thursday, February 15, at St. Bartholomew Church, San Mateo.

Further information can be obtained by contacting Tim Woodhull, director, Media Relations, (310) 243-3367, or Pamela Hammond, director, Public Affairs & Publications, (310) 243-2001.