Alan Merten, former president of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, died Thursday in Florida at age 78 following a battle with Parkinson’s disease, according to the school.
Merten spent 16 years as Mason’s fifth president, beginning in 1996.
“The impact of Alan Merten is felt on our campuses every day,” Mason interim president Anne Holton said in a statement released by the school.
“His sharp and prudent leadership at a pivotal time in a young university’s history guided Mason on a path to prominence. So much of what we value about Mason today is a direct result of his vision.”
A highlight for Merten was the 11th-seeded Patriots men’s basketball team winning the D.C. region in the 2006 NCAA Tournament after an 86-84 overtime win over top-seeded Connecticut, Mason’s first-ever trip to the Final Four.
“He was my best friend and biggest supporter during our 14 years together at George Mason. His accomplishments were incredible. He was one of a kind,” said former Patriots coach Jim Larranaga, who is now men’s basketball coach at the University of Miami.
Merten, who was born in Milwaukee, attended the universities of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and Madison.
He worked at the Pentagon during his time in the Air Force, which he joined after graduating.
Merten also earned a master’s degree in computer science from Stanford and returned to the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he earned a doctorate in computer science.
He taught in the engineering and business schools at the University of Michigan before becoming the school’s associate dean for executive education and computing services.
Merten was also the dean of the University of Florida’s College of Business Administration and dean of Cornell University’s graduate school of management before his tenure at Mason.