Family, friends, and former colleagues of Don Zuckert ’56 gathered in Old Greenwich, Conn., on Friday to say farewell and to remember a man who served the College and the arts at Bowdoin for more than four decades. President Barry Mills remembered Zuckert—who passed away Sunday, October 13, at the age of 79—as a “dear friend” who “did everything for Bowdoin.”
Good afternoon. I am honored to speak to you today as the president of Bowdoin College. And, I am personally honored because I also have the opportunity to reflect on my good friend Don in my own personal way.
Don loved Bowdoin College and Bowdoin College loved Don. And, it is especially difficult for me to stand before you today because of the depth of the personal loss I feel now that my dear friend Don has passed away.
Don was a trusted advisor and good friend to more than one president of Bowdoin College. Last week at Bowdoin, we dedicated a new studio arts and dance center named to recognize President Emeritus Robert Edwards and Blythe Edwards. The guest list was created by Bob and Blythe, and Don and Sue were at the top of their list. We talked about Don at dinner that night and noted that the evening was just a bit more sedate because Don and Sue weren’t among us.
Don was a citizen of our College—a person of influence and authority who was well liked, loved, and deeply respected by his fellow trustees, by students and faculty, and by our staff.
I have spent all week talking and remembering Don with others. J. Crandall and I talked about the Bowdoin trustee meetings of the 90’s, when what happened in Brunswick stayed in Brunswick. Ellen Shuman and I shared our deep sense of loss for a man who inspired both of us. Professor Mark Wethli and I remembered Don’s profound impact on the College and the arts. Professor Trisha Welsch stopped me yesterday crossing Bath Road to talk about Don. Rick Disch, the person from Bowdoin Dining who manages our trustee dinners in Main Lounge, talked with me about how much fun he had with Don at some of those events (that is, when Don wasn’t out at Cook’s Lobster House playing hooky with Barry Wish!). And with some members of the Class of 2003, we joked about how at Commencement, Don introduced the governor of Maine, John Baldacci, as John Balducci—not once, but three times. Don was the ad guy and he couldn’t get the brand name out of his head.
So, trustees, faculty, staff, and students knew Don and counted him as a friend—and remember, this is a guy who graduated from Bowdoin 57 years ago who had years and years of a day job and a lively retirement far away from Brunswick.
Don was a pro at pulling people together and at getting things done, and he tried his best to teach the rest of us what he had learned during a lifetime as a creative force and as a leader.
Don did everything for Bowdoin. He was incredibly active in all that we do at the College. He recruited students, he helped students get jobs, he advised presidents of Bowdoin, led capital campaigns, worked for his class, and raised money. Don loved to raise money. I am not sure who instilled more fear in our alumni base by showing up at their doors— Karen and me, or the team of Zuckert and Torrey.
In 2002, Don became chair of the Board of Trustees at Bowdoin. “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar,” Don would remind me time and time again. For those who know me, I’m sometimes not the best at spooning out honey (not to mention the fact that I’m more likely to swat the flies than to try to catch them!). But Don was a pro at pulling people together and at getting things done, and he tried his best to teach the rest of us what he had learned during a lifetime as a creative force and as a leader.
I think these skills that Don demonstrated time and time again came as a surprise to some. At first glance, Don might appear gruff. He wasn’t. He might appear to be a practical joker. That, he was.
Don once confided in me his concern that at Bowdoin he would never be board chair because he wasn’t viewed as the “serious” leader of the Board. Don was a very, very funny guy. But I knew that Don was also as determined as anyone I’ve ever worked with on behalf of Bowdoin, and that he was deceivingly bright, imaginative, tough (although a real softie at heart), and a person who had no problem telling a very confident—maybe overconfident—president where he or the College were stepping off the rails.
Don took his role as Board chair very seriously and intentionally, telling me often that he modeled himself after another Bowdoin giant, Paul Brountas—a contemporary of Don’s who is a brilliant man and also a lawyer like Don, and who, with elegance and grace, led Bowdoin’s board in the 90’s.
Don helped to lead us through some very tough decisions with confidence and judgment, and above all, with a dedication to Bowdoin.
Don loved Bowdoin and he was ambitious—deeply ambitious—for its future. Over these past years, while chair and as an advisor to me from New Castle and Florida, Don helped to lead us through some very tough decisions with confidence and judgment, and above all, with a dedication to Bowdoin. I will always be grateful to Don for his confidence in me, no matter how hard some of these decisions were for the College—and some were very hard. Don was a true leader.
His love for art and his talent—with Sue—for collecting art are well known. And Don decided a long time ago that Bowdoin was going to meet some very high standards for art and art education. He loaned works to our museum, made substantial gifts to the College that continue to allow us to bring world-class performers, speakers, and artists to Brunswick. And Don kept us moving forward when the College sought to renovate, expand, and upgrade our historic art museum. He and Sue recognized the true mission of this teaching museum when they established the Zuckert Seminar Room in the Bowdoin College Museum of Art—a critical space that allows students and faculty access to our collections and the opportunity to learn about and appreciate art up close.
If Bowdoin had a Mt. Rushmore for the arts at the College, it would be a mountain with Don, David Becker, and Linda Roth. Sadly, we also lost David too soon, and I commit to both Don and David that Bowdoin will continue to seek to reach the heights they so richly envisioned for our College.
So why was Don so committed to Bowdoin? How did this small College in Maine become so important to Don? I believe it was because of the people of Bowdoin. Don was a people person. Certainly, it was due to his time here as a student. He often spoke to me about the ATO house, his studies, and how well prepared he was for law school. But, in truth, it was his time as an overseer and trustee.
Through his work for Bowdoin he built friendships that helped to define his life. His love affair with Barry Wish happened because of the Bowdoin trustees. Those years formed his connections to Whitey, Debbie, and Tracy; his shared passions with Linda, David, and Lisa; and the closest of close bonds with Bill and Pam Torrey.
And, I hope my time with Don meant as much to him as it did for me—they were truly great years. The measure of our College is the enduring value of personal friendship. That was embodied in Don Zuckert.
Sue, Andy, Tim, Carol, Karen, Owen, and all the grandchildren, the Bowdoin community has never had a better friend or a more effective leader than your husband, father, brother, and grandfather. We are so grateful to him for his work and his loyalty, and we are grateful to each of you for lending him to us all these years. We will miss him very much, but he will always be in our hearts and he will always be in the fabric of our College.