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In Memoriam: Robert Dockson

The USC Dornsife alumnus was dean of the USC Marshall School of Business for a decade, then became a forward-looking banker.

In 1959, USC’s president named Robert Dockson, at age 41, dean of the then-USC School of Commerce. Dockson earned his bachelor's and Ph.D. at USC Dornsife and donated generously to USC. Here, Dockson advises at USC. Photo courtesy of USC Marshall School of Business.
In 1959, USC’s president named Robert Dockson, at age 41, dean of the then-USC School of Commerce. Dockson earned his bachelor's and Ph.D. at USC Dornsife and donated generously to USC. Here, Dockson advises at USC. Photo courtesy of USC Marshall School of Business.

Robert R. Dockson, among the most distinguished graduates of USC Dornsife’s School of International Relations and a generous USC benefactor, has died. He was 96.

Dockson died Nov. 26 at his Los Angeles home, surrounded by family.

“I will miss my dad’s constant wisdom, guidance and leadership,” said Dockson’s daughter Kimberlee Dockson Rollo. “He always loved being with his family, especially his grandchildren and great-great children. They brought him tremendous delight.”

Earning his master’s in international relations in 1940, Dockson received his Ph.D. in economics in 1946. Both were from USC Dornsife. He earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois in 1939.

Dockson was dean of the USC Marshall School of Business from 1959 to 1969, playing an integral role in shaping the breadth and impact of today’s modern business school. Under his leadership the school experienced a major transformation with the establishment of the Graduate School of Business, a broadly revamped curricula, increased scholarships and professorships and the construction of the school's epicenter, Hoffman Hall. Current Marshall Dean James Ellis holds the Robert R. Dockson Dean’s Chair in Business Administration.

In 1969, Dr. Dockson began a second career by joining California Federal Savings and Loan, the nation's largest federal S&L at the time. He became CEO in 1973 and chairman in 1984. Before retiring as chairman in 1989, the company became public and grew from 18 to nearly 300 offices in the West and Southeast as well as experiencing asset growth from $1.7 billion to $27 billion. As longtime chairman, Dockson was a forward-thinker in banking during a time of great change. In 1981, he was interviewed by The New York Times about the new idea of automated teller machines, for which Dockson was an early proponent.

His many friends remember his personal warmth, wisdom, dynamic leadership, integrity, and concern for his community and country.

Born Oct. 6, 1917 in Quincy, Illinois, Dockson applied to several universities for graduate work. USC’s then-President Rufus von KleinSmid sent him a handwritten letter offering a tuition scholarship and a part-time job, and welcomed him in person. Dockson arrived to study for a master’s in international relations/foreign service in September 1939, just as Germany was invading Poland. That Fall, students and faculty energetically debated whether the United States would enter the war. Several USC professors mentored him and invited him to their homes, which Dockson always remembered with affection. 

After completing his master’s, he began his Ph.D. studies in economics at USC Dornsife. In 1942, however, he volunteered to join the U.S. Navy and served in the Pacific. In 1944 when General Douglas MacArthur returned to the Philippines under fire, at the village of Tacloban, Dockson was there. In April 1945 Dockson was part of the massive U.S. landing on Okinawa. During the war he also met and married his beloved wife Katheryn, who died in 2007.  

When he applied for professorships after he earned his Ph.D., he received no fewer than 30 offers. After starting at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, he returned to USC to become a professor of business. 

In 1959, USC’s president named him, at age 41, dean of the then-USC School of Commerce. His 10 years as dean witnessed major innovations that strengthened that school. In 1969, California Federal Savings and Loan persuaded Dockson to leave academia and lead in the private sector. He was proud to have taken the firm public and was in the forefront of promoting corporate social responsibility. 

Dockson’s wider community recognized his leadership and values in many other remarkable ways. He served as president of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the California Chamber of Commerce. The Los Angeles Urban League honored Dockson with its Whitney Young Award, and he received the Albert Schweitzer Leadership Award. At the request of the Chief Justice of California’s Supreme Court, he chaired a two-year commission that proposed ways to improve justice in California. 

He served on the board of more than 30 corporations and charitable organizations. Others were: The Foremost McKesson Corporation, Pacific Enterprises, Computer Sciences Corporation, International Lease Finance, International Technology, The Olga Company, Ticor, Bekins, the Rose Hills Memorial Parks Association, the Haynes Foundation, Town Hall of California and Orthopedic Hospital.

He loved and generously remembered USC. Among other gifts, he and his wife endowed the Robert and Katheryn Dockson Chair in International Relations and Economics. He also made possible a case teaching classroom and a media room for the USC School of International Relations, each named to honor professor Ross Berkes, his classmate and long-time director of the school. Dockson also met with the school’s leaders and shared advice from his long experience, most recently in September 2012.

Dockson is survived by his daughter Kimberlee Dockson Rollo and her husband Robert Rollo of Park City, Utah, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 2:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 7, at the Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church, 505 N. Rodeo Drive.

In lieu of flowers, Dockson’s family requests donations be made to the Master of Business for Veterans Program (MBV) at the USC Marshall School of Business. Checks may be made payable to “USC Marshall School of Business” with “MBV Program” noted in the memo section – and mailed to USC Marshall School of Business, Office of External Relations, ATT 29th Floor, Los Angeles, CA  90089.

USC Dornsife’s Pamela J. Johnson contributed to this report.