Dr. Robert E. Ford, ’65, has strong ties to Niagara University, dating from his time as an undergraduate from 1963-65, and subsequently, as an adjunct instructor in the university’s criminal justice program from 1983-86. His wife, Dr. Marilyn Chandler Ford, was an assistant professor in the criminal justice and criminology program from 1981-1986. In fact, it was at Niagara University, when Bob was a guest speaker in one of Marilyn’s classes, where their love began. But that is jumping ahead in the story of the role Niagara University played in this couple’s life, and their decision to support NU through a planned giving mechanism.
Bob was born in New York City and attended St. Dominic’s High School on Long Island. He then attended Maryknoll College in Glen Ellen, Ill., where he studied for the priesthood. Bob left the monastery after two years and enrolled in Niagara University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology, magna cum laude. Nick Caggiano, professor of sociology, was influential in Bob’s scholastic development, igniting his interest in sociology and, more specifically, in criminology. While at Niagara, Bob was on the debate team.
Bob pursued graduate studies at the University of Illinois-Champaign/Urbana, earning both master’s and doctoral degrees in sociology. During his graduate studies, Bob worked with the Chicago police department and was a National Institute of Mental Health Fellow. Following graduate school, Bob taught criminology full time at the State University of New York-Buffalo for eight years. He then left full-time academia to become third in command at the Erie County Sheriff’s Department in Buffalo, N.Y., until he was selected as commissioner of Central Police Services for Erie County. The modified metropolitan police agency provided a forensic laboratory, police training academy, computer system, and 911 radio system for the county’s 27 municipal agencies and sheriff.
But Bob missed street-level policing, so he took a job as police chief in Port Orange, Fla., in September 1986. He served in this position through January 1999, when he became director of police services for the city until August 1999. Upon retirement from policing, Bob turned to his other career love—education—and taught criminal justice and research at the University of Central Florida until 2016.
Bob also served his community as a member of the Port Orange City Council, running first in 2010. He was in his third term at the time of his death in December 2018. Bob had two children.
Marilyn grew up outside of Rochester, N.Y. She attended the State University of New York-Buffalo, earning a bachelor’s degree in social service and community planning. Following a stint as a mental health/substance abuse counselor in a suburb of Buffalo, she entered the nation’s first graduate program in criminal justice at the State University of New York-Albany. Marilyn earned a master’s and doctorate in criminal justice while working on federal criminal justice research grants. In 1981, Marilyn was hired as an assistant professor in Niagara University’s fledgling criminal justice and criminology program. On the cusp of tenure at NU, Marilyn moved with Bob to Florida.
Always interested in the operation of the justice system, Marilyn worked briefly for the Florida Department of Probation and Parole as a probation officer. She then was hired to do research, jail population control, and computer information system planning for the Volusia County Department of Corrections. Marilyn progressed upward in the department, serving as head of every sector within the jail, including warden of each of the jail’s institutions. She returned to the corrections academy to become a state-certified corrections officer and, in 2008, was selected as the corrections director, a position she held until 2016, when she was chosen to handle special projects across county government for the next three years.
Throughout her employment at the jail, Marilyn continued to conduct research and serve as an adjunct instructor at several local colleges; she also enjoyed seeing former NU colleagues at professional academic meetings. Following Bob’s death, Marilyn was approached by several citizens to run for Bob’s vacant city council position. She decided to run for his seat and was elected and served as a Port Orange City Council member for 18 months. Although now retired from full-time corrections work, Marilyn continues to consult nationally on jail and justice issues.
Niagara University is a special place for the Fords. Aside from being the venue that led to their 34-and-a-half-year marriage, they cite the NU ethos as integral to their success professionally, personally, and as a couple. For Bob, Niagara University helped him develop as a young adult, providing a framework outside of the monastery where he could examine ideas, the world, and ultimately, his life’s profession, while remaining grounded within an intellectual and spiritual framework. For Marilyn, Niagara University was her first foray into teaching. She had thought she would spend her career in research, but she learned the enjoyment of teaching inquisitive minds and the satisfaction of mentoring students.
The Fords began supporting NU through its student scholarship program, and then through Bob’s Class of 1965’s milestone fundraising program. The Fords also identified Niagara University in their estate planning. When Bob passed away, it was an easy decision for Marilyn to designate Niagara University as the place for memorial remembrances, and she established the Robert E. Ford Memorial Fund. In the intervening years, as Marilyn has evaluated the direction and needs of Niagara University and its students, her commitment has grown, and she has established a new endowment: The Dr. Robert E. and Marilyn Chandler Ford Memorial Endowment Fund.
“We (both) value that Niagara University speaks to a student’s intellect,” Marilyn said. “We value that Niagara University speaks to a student’s heart. We value that Niagara University speaks to a student’s spirit. In short, and unlike other educational institutions, the Niagara University experience speaks to the whole person. Providing a planned gift for NU—whether through a memorial fund, through an endowment, or some other gift vehicle—ensures that Niagara University will continue to educate and bless the next generation of students and, ultimately, the larger world, as its graduates will make an impact because of their NU experience.”