Ron Withem, 73, a longtime lobbyist for the University of Nebraska system who was a key architect of numerous major legislative initiatives that benefited NU campuses, died May 28 at his Papillion home following an illness.
“Evidence of (Withem’s) impact on the University of Nebraska and our state is everywhere,” said Ted Carter, president of the NU system. “He clearly had a deep and personal recognition of the value of education, and his unique gift for building trusted relationships with our elected leaders will benefit students for generations to come.
“Those who knew him will remember Ron as a great public servant, a brilliant political mind and a beloved friend. The University of Nebraska is a more affordable, accessible and excellent institution thanks to his service. Nebraska has lost a great one.”
— Ronnie D. Green (@RonnieDGreen) May 29, 2020
Withem – a champion of education from the early days of his career — was a history teacher before he entered politics. He served in the Nebraska Legislature for 14 years, chairing the Education Committee and serving as speaker from 1993 to 1996.
Withem joined the University of Nebraska’s Central Administration office in 1997, serving for 20 years as director of governmental relations. As the NU system’s chief legislative officer, he helped steward a number of successful partnerships with the state, including:
• The Building a Healthier Nebraska initiative, which resulted in critical state investments in the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center at UNMC, the Health Science Education Complex on the UNK campus, the Nebraska Veterinary Diagnostic Center at UNL, and a new home for the UNMC College of Nursing’s Lincoln division.
• The relocation of the Nebraska State Fair from Lincoln to Grand Island that paved the way for development of Nebraska Innovation Campus at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
• An affordability compact that froze tuition for resident students across the NU system for two years.
• Multiple deferred maintenance packages that have helped protect valuable university facilities.
In 2013, Withem was the recipient of the Marvin D. “Swede” Johnson Achievement Award, a national honor recognizing extraordinary achievement in higher education advocacy.
He retired in 2017. In celebrating Withem’s tenure at the university, the Board of Regents thanked him for “dedicating his life to public service, using each role as an opportunity to impact the lives of students and make Nebraska a better place.”
Withem is survived by his wife, Diane, and children Suzanne and Justin. A celebration of life is being planned. Condolences can be submitted through Kahler-Dolce Mortuary.