Donald J. Farish, 75, former president of Rowan University and current head of Roger Williams University, died Thursday, July 5, at Tufts Medical Center in Boston of an undisclosed illness that "came on suddenly," according to Roger Williams officials.

Dr. Farish served as president of Rowan from 1998 to 2011, where he oversaw a crucial period in the school's history in the years following a $100 million gift from industrialist Henry Rowan that transformed the school from one that historically produced educators to one that added an engineering school and boosted its focus on the sciences.

"He was brought in to take the university to the next level, and he did so," said Joe Cardona, Rowan's vice president for university relations.

Cardona said Dr. Farish was integral in Rowan's transition to a comprehensive public research institution, pioneering the school's engineering department, starting its medical school, and purchasing land that led to university expansion.

According to Rowan president Ali A. Houshmand, Dr. Farish presided over the construction of Science Hall, Education Hall, the Town House residential complex, the development of the Cooper Medical School in Camden, and the purchase of the 600 acres that hold the university's West Campus in Glassboro.

Dr. Farish had served as president of Roger Williams, in Providence, R.I., since 2011.

Andrew Workman, provost of Roger Williams, remembered him as a mentor and close friend who was intimately connected with the life of the 5,000-student private university.

During his time at Roger Williams, Dr. Farish loved talking to students, attending sports events and arts performances, and hosting student groups at his home for dinner, Workman said.

He "had a strong understanding of how to lead an institution," Workman added.

Colleagues remembered Dr. Farish as a funny, witty, and extremely intelligent individual who was well liked by all.

Dr. Farish had planned to retire when his contract expired next June.

His illness came on in the past few weeks, said university spokesman Ed Fitzpatrick. He did not disclose the nature of the illness.

He is survived by his wife, Maia.

Services were pending.