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William Rice Elfers ’71, a longtime trustee of The Daily Princetonian and the paper’s undergraduate business manager in 1970, died on Saturday at the age of 71. Elfers chaired the paper’s board from 1993–2004.
Elfers passed away at his home in Marion, Mass., after a long battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), according to an obituary written by his wife, Deborah.
Tom Weber ’89, president of the Board of Trustees of The Daily Princetonian Publishing Co., wrote, “Bill Elfers was a generous friend, colleague and mentor to the students and alumni of The Daily Princetonian for close to half a century.”
“He was a tireless advocate for student journalism and publishing. His leadership was instrumental to the ‘Prince’ overcoming several financial crises over the years and having the resources to transform for the digital age,” Weber wrote. “We will miss him dearly.”
From Boston to Business Manager
Elfers was born at Richardson House in Boston, Mass., on April 9, 1949, one of two children born to parents William Elfers ’41 and Ann Rice Elfers. Elfers spent his childhood in lower Beacon Street and Wellesley Hills. Before matriculating to Princeton, he attended the Fessenden School and the Hotchkiss School.
A devoted member of the ‘Prince’ business team, Elfers was elected business manager for the 94th board. He oversaw the paper’s financial operations in 1970, a year when impassioned strikes against the Vietnam War swept campus. During his tenure, the ‘Prince’ reported on the University’s suspension of its ROTC program, the faculty’s decision to allow striking students to waive or postpone coursework, and the Kent State shooting, which roiled campus.
Richard W. Thaler, Jr. ’73, who worked with Elfers on the business team and later served with him as a trustee, said that Elfers transformed business practices during his term.
“There were lots of opportunities to make money [at the ‘Prince’] but it was poorly ran,” Thaler said. “Bill came in and systematized things and developed some techniques to raise money.”
Thaler recalled that Elfers and his business team started Xanadu Productions, which put up movie showings on Friday and Saturday nights with ticket prices just below that of the local movie theater. Thaler estimated that Elfers’ business board earned nearly $40,000.
Marc W. Bono, who roomed with Elfers during their first year, described him as a generous friend who took time to help others.
“He was just a great, loyal friend,” Bono said. “He would just do things for people. I could always see what he was doing for other classmates and other friends.”
Elfers eventually persuaded Bono to join the ‘Prince,’ where he became development director.
Throughout his life, Elfers would remain close with his ‘Prince’ colleagues. For many years, Elfers and Thaler rendezvoused at Fenway Park for the Boston Red Sox’s season opener, which often fell close to their shared April 9 birthday.
Thirty years after his father, Elfers received an A.B. in history in 1971. He examined Nazi Germany in his senior thesis, titled “The Millenialist Impulse of German National Socialism.” A resident of Pyne Hall and later Patton Hall, Elfers also belonged to Princeton Tower Club.
‘One of the most generous guys I know’
After graduating from the University, Elfers embarked on a Fulbright Scholarship, which took him to Germany’s Heidelberg University. While in Germany, he visited the small town of Daverden, looking to learn more about long-lost German relatives. His arrival reignited a family bond that had been dormant for generations.
Elfers went on to attend Harvard Business School, from which he graduated in 1974. He then pursued a successful business career, working in New York City as an investment analyst for Browns Brothers Harriman and then as a partner at Fidelity Ventures in Boston.
In 1989, he became managing director of Fidelity Capital. Shortly thereafter, he founded Fidelity’s Community Newspaper Company, working as CEO until its sale in 2001. He founded Tower Capital Partners in 2002 and served as its managing partner until this year.
Later in life, Elfers enjoyed golfing and held season tickets for the New England Patriots.
President of the Elfers Foundation for many years, Elfers was also a devoted philanthropist, serving as a longtime trustee not only of the ‘Prince,’ but also of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, the Hotchkiss School, the Newton-Wellesley Hospital, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Elfers joined the ‘Prince’ Board of Trustees in 1982. He served as Vice President from 1987–1993 and President from 1993–2004. He remained a member of the Board until 2017, when he transferred to Emeritus status.
James MacGregor ’66, a trustee emeritus of the ‘Prince,’ recalled Elfers’ amiable and temperate personality.
“His small talk was basically focused on the people he knew best. He was careful and polite and good humored. I don’t recall him ever cracking a joke, but I also don’t recall him ever failing to get someone else’s joke,” MacGregor said. “He was lean-faced, had a very penetrating gaze, and didn’t let a lot of emotions show.”
Greg Conderacci ’71, whose term as Editor-in-Chief coincided with Elfers’ as business manager, remarked on Elfers’ generosity.
“I have to say that Bill was one of the most generous guys I know in terms of his support for the ‘Prince’ and Princeton,” Conderacci said. “Not only was he generous with his own money, but he would also call all of us whom he knew from back in the day to donate to Princeton.”
Elfers is survived by his wife, Deborah; his sister, Jane; and his daughters, Katherine ’18 and Amelia.