Melady was a former U.S. ambassador when he became Sacred Heart's third president in 1976, a position he held for a decade.
"His service came during a time of great change for Sacred Heart," said John Petillo, the current president of the Fairfield school. "The university began to move from a start-up college to an acclaimed regional university. His vision played an important role in Sacred Heart becoming not only the nationally known university it is today, but also in our reputation as a special place where members of the community are treated with respect and dignity."
A Norwich native, Melady often took delight in saying he felt at home at Sacred Heart, then a commuter college for working-class students. Melady, however, attempted to move the university into public focus by helping to create a Center for Ethnic Studies and providing public forums for debates on local and national issues.
He added a "brand" to the then-commuter college that hadn't been there before, said Brian Hamilton, an SHU trustee, who said he considered Melady a mentor as well as a friend.
"Next to my father, he was the most important person I have known in my professional career, by far," Hamilton said. "He was a good man and a genuine person."
Hamilton, a 20-year-old intern when he met Melady about 30 years ago, said Melady managed to be ambitious and ethical at the same time, and treated everyone, including students, with respect.
He was also a mentor to faculty. Sacred Heart Professor Gary Rose, a fellow political scientist, said Melady was "non-stop" and inspirational.
"He was always helping bring people along, with no ulterior motive," Rose said. "He was unselfish. I've never known anyone like him."
Melady served in the administrations of three Republican presidents and as an American ambassador to Burundi, Uganda and the Vatican. He also served as an assistant secretary for postsecondary education. He was considered an authority on Afro-Asian and Central European affairs, wrote 16 books and had been living in Washington with his wife, Margaret.
Petillo said Melady's death brought great sadness to him and to the entire Sacred Heart community.
"I have known Tom for more than 25 years," Petillo said. "He was a forward-thinking visionary ... His impact continues to be evident in Sacred Heart's current success as well as in its reputation as a caring, inclusive community where all are treated with respect and dignity."
Sacred Heart will hold a memorial mass for Melady at 2 p.m. Jan. 14 in the university's Chapel of the Holy Spirit.