Both John and Penelope Biggs are longtime friends of Washington University, alumni of Arts & Sciences with a dedication to keeping the classics alive.

Since 1990, Washington University in St. Louis has benefited from a residency in the classics department created by the Biggses, whereby a prominent scholar in Greek or Latin studies visits the university for a week to teach and promote an area of the classics. In 2002, the couple made a commitment to establish the John and Penelope Biggs Distinguished Professorship in Classics. They also have established a distinguished professorship in economics.

Native St. Louisan John Biggs is an eminent economist with a lifelong interest in advancing education. He earned a bachelor’s degree in classics from Harvard, and his first job was with General American Life Insurance Co., where he ascended through the ranks. He also served as Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance at Washington Univerisity, when he became president and chief executive officer of Centerre Trust Inc. Since

During his tenure at Washington University, he earned a doctorate in economics and taught classes in that department. He received the PhD in economics in 1982, after fulfilling his language requirement by translating passages from the Iliad with Professor Sale of the Classics Department.

He later served as chief executive officer of investment company TIAA-CREF, and led the company until retiring in 2002.

Since his retirement, Biggs has remained active in corporate, community and professional associations.

John Biggs has been a trustee of Washington University since 1985 (he is now trustee emeritus), and he received the Arts & Sciences Dean’s Medal in 2005. He also received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from Washington University in 2011 and a New York Regional Award in 2006 for outstanding professional achievements and service to Washington University. John currently serves on the Arts & Sciences National Council, as a volunteer for Leading Together: The Campaign for Washington University, and as an honorary member of the New York City Regional Cabinet.

In 2017 John Biggs received the Search Award from the William Greenleaf Eliot Society.

Penelope Biggs graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in classics from Radcliffe College, where she first met John while he was a student at Harvard.

She earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in comparative literature from Washington University in 1968 and 1974, respectively, taking many courses in classics. She joined the faculty of Lindenwood College (now University) as an assistant professor of literature.

Later, she taught Latin at the high school now known as Mary Institute Country Day School. Her writings on classical and post-classical literature have been published in scholarly journals.

John and Penelope Biggs are members of Washington University’s Danforth Circle Chancellor’s Level and life members of the Danforth Circle Dean’s Level. Together, they received the Robert S. Brookings Award in 2009.




Text drawn primarily from Washington University’s The Source, April 12, 2013.