Rodney Armstrong

March 5, 1923April 14, 2021

Rodney Armstrong died on April 14th 2021, at home and surrounded by family. He was 98. Born in Atlanta in 1923, he attended the Lawrenceville School and enlisted in the Navy in July 1943. He served as a medical corpsman aboard the escort carrier USS Suwannee and was wounded in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. He was awarded a Purple Heart and discharged in May 1945 as a pharmacist’s mate second class.

After the war he attended Williams College, graduating in 1948. He received a master of library science degree from Columbia University and began his career as the librarian of Phillips Exeter Academy, a post he held for 23 years. While at Exeter he oversaw the design and construction of the Class of 1945 Library, one of the most important works of the architect Louis Kahn.

In 1969, he married Katharine Price Cortesi of New York, a union that lasted over half a century. They had two children: Louise Spencer in 1970 and Robert Knowlton in 1971.

He was the Director and Librarian of the Boston Athenaeum from 1973 to 1997, where he led a significant revival of the institution, both culturally and financially.

Upon retiring from the Athenaeum, he worked as an associate at Sotheby’s and divided his time between Boston and Ipswich, Massachusetts.

He served as the president of the Trustees of Donations for Education in Liberia, the Club of Odd Volumes in Boston, the Manuscript Society, and the New England Historic Genealogical Society. He was a member of a myriad of other clubs and organizations, including the Grolier Club and Century Association in New York, the Somerset, Union, and Tavern Clubs in Boston, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Liberia.

His sisters Mary Sams and Elizabeth Leps predeceased him. In addition to his wife and children, he is survived by his son-in-law Randolph Barton III, his daughter-in-law Wylie O’Sullivan and five grandchildren: Randolph, Henry, and Katharine Barton, and Elsie and Augustus Armstrong. His wife, children and grandchildren will remember his loyalty and generosity to all around him.

Services will be private.


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