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Miami alumni and donor Richard Farmer passes away at 86

Dick Farmer passed away at age 86 after years of philanthropy and mentorship at Miami University.
Dick Farmer passed away at age 86 after years of philanthropy and mentorship at Miami University.

Businessman and philanthropist Richard “Dick” Farmer, namesake of Miami University’s Farmer School of Business, died Aug. 4 at 86 years old.

An alumnus of Miami, Farmer donated frequently after graduating in 1956, providing the cornerstone gift to the school of business in 1992. Farmer and his wife, Joyce, donated an additional $30 million through the Farmer Family Foundation in 2005 to fund construction of the building and support faculty.

Before the physical building to house the school of business was completed in 2009, Farmer signed the inside of the cupola that now sits on top of the building.

In 2016, Farmer gave $40 million to the school of business, the largest single donation in Miami’s history at the time.

During his college years, Farmer met Joyce at Miami. He graduated with a degree in marketing and went on a tour with the Marine Corps while she finished her education and graduated in 1957.

They married the day after his discharge.

Farmer came back to his alma mater often to visit his fraternity brothers, the Delta Tau Deltas. Through them, he met John Altman, a 1960 graduate who would become a lifelong friend.

“Us young guys, we looked up to Dick,” Altman said. “He joined the Marine Corps and went through Officers Candidate School … The guys always looked up to him. He was a tall, good looking, smart guy, and we were young kids.”

The pair wouldn’t stay kids forever, though. 

Farmer joined his family business, Acme Wiper and Industrial Laundry Co. After a decade of work, he left to found his own company, Cintas, to test new ideas in business.

Two years later, Cintas was successful enough that Farmer was able to buy his family business. Now a Fortune 500 company that employs 40,000 people, Cintas supplies uniforms, first aid and cleaning products to businesses around the globe.

When Tim Holcomb, associate professor and chair of entrepreneurship at Miami, met Farmer in 2014, he said he didn’t give the impression of a high-strung businessman.

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“I’ve had the opportunity and fortune of meeting and talking to quite a few Fortune 500 CEOs,” Holcomb said. “Most of them are incredibly busy, under a lot of stress. If Dick was feeling stress and anxiety at the moment he sure didn’t show it.”

Holcomb had only been teaching at Miami for a few months when he met Farmer. At the time, he was the Cintas Chair in Entrepreneurship — one of the only chair positions at the university named after a business.

“He took time to get to know me and get to know a little bit about what I was doing at Miami,” Holcomb said. “Although I’d been there just a few months when we first met.”

Through every interaction, Holcomb said Farmer maintained an air of graciousness and humility, a description Altman agreed with.

Farmer owned property in Arkansas and took Altman duck hunting with him once. At the dinner table, he asked Altman to offer a blessing. Despite the short notice, Altman said when Dick Farmer asked you to do something, you did it.

“Here’s a guy that was certainly connected to the spiritual world, as well as to the real world, a so-called foot in each camp,” Altman said. “The bridge was humility.”

Along with humility, Farmer’s ability to delegate brought him far in both business and life. 

When FSB’s Board of Visitors, a network of successful alumni founded by Farmer to advise the school’s administration and staff on curriculum and resources, came across a task at one of their meetings, Farmer sent everyone on their way in groups of two to get the job done.

“There’s a lot of people competing with each other to take credit, and Dick wasn’t that kind of guy,” Altman said. “He wanted to bring out the best in all of us … like the Marine Officer he was. We all understood we had a job to do, but it was just the way he handled everything.”

Farmer was inducted into the Greater Cincinnati Business Hall of Fame in 1996. In 2010, he received the key to the city of Mason. His foundation donated over $27 million in 2019, and throughout his life Farmer donated to over 200 nonprofit organizations, including the Ronald McDonald House and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

Farmer leaves behind his wife and son, Scott D. Farmer, who retired as CEO of Cintas this summer, as well as two daughters, Brynne Coletti and Amy Joseph.

He leaves behind friends and colleagues like Altman, relationships which spanned decades, and he leaves behind innumerable memories of the ways he laughed with, served, learned from and taught others.

“Like all long term relationships, there are a lot of stories I can’t tell for The Miami Student,” Altman said. “But I tell these stories in private to a lot of people. [Dick’s life] had all the colors of every pallet known to man.”