Longtime Hoover Director and Change Agent

John Thomas Raisian

September 2023

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Donning a battered World War I combat helmet, Hoover Institution director John Raisian faced the Faculty Senate and called for “productive dialogue” to temper frosty campus relations, according to the Stanford Daily. It was 1990, and faculty got an early look at the wit, tact, and vision of the man who would lead the think tank over the next quarter-century, while Hoover’s novice chief got smiles and the start of a thaw.

Portrait of John RaisianPhoto: Eric Draper/Hoover Institution

John Thomas Raisian, the Tad and Dianne Taube Director of the Hoover Institution until his retirement in 2015, died on April 24 of kidney failure at the home he shared with his wife, Claudia Morgan, in Nashville, Tenn. He was 73.

During his tenure, Hoover’s endowment grew from $100 million to $600 million. The funds enabled the roster of senior fellows to more than double. Raisian organized the institution’s research initiatives into three themes: democracy and free markets; American institutions and economic performance; and international rivals and global cooperation.

“I never heard him solicit,” Morgan says. “He would talk about Hoover with such enthusiasm and at such length that a potential donor would finally say, ‘John, when are you going to ask me for money?’” 

Raisian, who had a PhD in economics from UCLA, began his career in academia, held various positions within the U.S. Department of Labor, and served as president of an economic consulting firm in Los Angeles before joining the Hoover Institution in 1986 as a senior fellow and associate director. In May 1990, he was appointed director.

Historian and Hoover research fellow Bertrand M. Patenaude recalls how, in the 1980s, strife had roiled the campus over the institution’s failed plan to locate Reagan’s presidential library at Stanford. “His arrival at once helped calm Hoover’s relations with the university, then at their nadir. His genial presence brought a palpable sense of relief.”

Raisian ascribed his early woes to a chronic budget deficit, a narrow and aging donor base, and antagonistic faculty. “Ever the optimist,” says Richard Sousa, an emeritus research fellow, “he restructured Hoover intellectually from a sleepy think tank on the West Coast to an internationally known public policy research center.” 

In 2006, President George W. Bush presented a National Humanities Medal to the Hoover Institution. Raisian accepted it in the Oval Office. Back on campus, he persuaded key donors and administrators at Stanford to support Hoover’s centrally located David and Joan Traitel Building, which opened in 2017.

“Planning Traitel showed his creativity, his strategic thinking, and his status as a visionary,” says John Cogan, a senior fellow at Hoover. 

“He took the ivory tower to the public square,” says Tunku Varadarajan, a research fellow at Hoover and a former Wall Street Journal editor. “His great skill was to manage an institution teeming with gargantuan egos and world-class intellects—and to get them to come down and talk to folks via op-ed pages.” 

H.R. McMaster, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general and a senior fellow at Hoover, spoke of their friendship. “He had a generous heart. When he moved to Nashville, he gave me part of his collection of great cabernets. I keep them for when I have friends over, to tell them about John Raisian and all he did for Hoover and Stanford and our nation.”

In addition to his wife, Raisian is survived by daughters Meghan Tesi, Alison, and Sarah.

John Roemer is a freelance writer based in Sausalito, Calif. Email him at stanford.magazine@stanford.edu.

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