Robert Herschler, UCR’s Longtime Registrar, Dies at 86

His 30-year career included stints as UCR ombudsman, history teacher, and co-founding DJ of KUCR’s enduring Jazz Tuesday program

Robert Herschler in his UCR office. Photo from the UCR Library archives

By Jeanette Marantos 

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — Robert B. Herschler, a jaunty renaissance man who sweetened his long tenure as UC Riverside’s registrar and ombudsman with avid lunchtime discussions about Dickens and a lifetime love for piano and jazz, died at home on Nov. 22 at the age of 86.

Herschler started working as UCR’s Registrar in 1961 and also taught history briefly, said Amy Conger, his wife of 30 years. After a few years he settled entirely into administration, running the Registrar’s office until he retired in 1992. Along the way he took on other titles as well, as director of admissions, interim vice chancellor, and campus ombudsman. Students often brought their parents to gawk at his office, his wife recalled, because it was stuffed with such an eclectic collection of books and art.

A piece of art made for Robert Herschler by Judy Field Baker at his retirement in 1992

A piece of art made for Robert Herschler by Judy Field Baker at his retirement in 1992

“He was just a very positive guy and all the chancellors valued him quite a bit,” said his longtime friend, Judge Charles D. Field, a member of UCR’s first class in 1954 and an active alumnus who met Herschler in the 1960s, when he was advocating for students. “He put people at ease immediately,” Field said. “He was very open and very helpful, a terrific guy to have in that job.”

In the early days, UCR was a small campus with fewer than 5,000 students, and Herschler could add lots of personal touches, such as monitoring student progress and alerting their professors and deans when they seemed in danger of not graduating, said his friend, David Glidden, professor emeritus of philosophy at UCR.

Glidden’s favorite memory, however, is how Herschler would close his office at lunch and host discussions about Dickens’ novels with other faculty and staff. He also presided over lunches at Mario’s Place in downtown Riverside every Friday with his close friend and founding UCR faculty member Francis Carney, discussing a wide range of topics from politics and history to music and movies.

“I felt so honored to attend their Friday lunches,” Glidden said. “There was something rather charming about how Robert did all that. He was just this person who had the time and energy to have much wider interests than today’s world really allows.”

A celebration of his life is set for Saturday, Jan. 14, at 2:30 p.m. at the First Congregational Church of Riverside. Expect an afternoon with “lots of music,” said Conger, for music was one of Herschler’s greatest passions. He was an accomplished pianist who recorded five CDs of classics he arranged and interpreted, including his most recent, “Kids’ Songs Gone Jazz.”

“He was prodigiously talented as a jazz pianist,” said friend and KUCR station manager Louis Van Den Berg. “He would creatively rework standards with chord substitutions, resetting the melody into another mood or style.”

Robert Herschler at the piano, a family photo taken by Stephen Herschler.

Robert Herschler at the piano, a family photo taken by Stephen Herschler.

Herschler co-founded KUCR’s “Jazz Tuesday” program, with Carney, professor of political science and Donald Johns, professor of music. All three of them have now died.

“They were all real aficionados, jazz heads who knew the artists, the culture, and the scene,” Van Den Berg said. “Bob’s KUCR programs had their own signature, and he drew you into the world he painted with sound, with his deep voice, and deep insights.”

The station is still replaying Herschler’s programs on Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Van Den Berg said. In fact, the show aired as Herschler was dying, his wife said.  “His music was sublime, and so was he,” said Van Den Berg, who credits Herschler with giving him his job at the radio station in the 1970s.

Herschler was born on Dec. 29, 1929 in New York City, the only child of Alex and Martha (Hanna) Herschler. His father sold law books. His mother, a Riverside native, was the first female editor of the UC Berkeley student newspaper and later an editor at Vogue magazine.

Raised in California, Herschler earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Stanford University, and then earned his master’s degree and did doctoral work in Balkan History at UC Berkeley.

Herschler joined the Army in 1954 during the Korean War and was assigned to Stuttgart in Germany, where he worked in counterintelligence, trying to break enemy codes, Conger said.

He married Judith Palmer in 1959, and they had four children, Matthew, Mark, Sarah, and Stephen. His second marriage to Ann Abbate came with four stepchildren, Conger said. Robert Herschler met Conger, who holds a Ph.D. in art history, at a political fundraiser in Riverside. She taught at UCR for a time. They were married in 1986.

Herschler is survived by his wife, Amy, in Riverside; his children Matthew, Mark and Sarah, all from North Hampton, Massachusetts; and his son Stephen in Atlanta, Georgia. Condolences and tributes can be emailed to Conger at amycbobh@gmail.com. In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance at UCLA.

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