SALEM – When Nancy D. Harrington graduated from Salem State College in 1960, the school had few buildings and mainly awarded educational degrees. Thirty years later, when she became the first female president of the state of Salem, Harrington dreamed of transforming the small college into a vibrant university.
Today, with nearly 7,000 students enrolled in dozens of undergraduate and graduate programs, Salem State is one of Massachusetts’ largest state universities. The university honored its loyal leader on Friday by renaming its central campus in honor of Harrington, who died in December at the age of 81.
Dozens of her friends, family, classmates and colleagues gathered to celebrate the Nancy D. Harrington campus, which is home to the university’s newest buildings, dormitories and green spaces.
“She was shy and calm when we were students, but her passion for this place inspired her to work so hard,” said Eileen Walsh, one of Harrington’s many former classmates who attended the ceremony. ‘one o’clock.
Harrington’s 17-year tenure as president led to the university’s current success, President John D. Keenan told a crowd gathered on the green lawn of Viking Hall.
“It all,” Keenan said, referring to the sprawling campus, “dates back to the acquisition of this property in the ’90s, made possible by President Harrington. She was an educator, a visionary, a pioneer.
Harrington led the effort for the state to acquire an old GTE lighting installation to develop the central campus. Walsh was surprised by the spectacular growth of his alma mater.
“I’m just a little overwhelmed. I mean, I had no idea, ”Walsh said, wiping away a tear. “When I went to school here, it was just a building on the street. And I already came back to visit and see some of it, but I didn’t know it was that big.
Just before the ceremony began, a light rain fell. But the droplets seemed to stop just as quickly, allowing the campus to shine in the sun.
“I know the downpour that went through the clouds that were here, [Nancy] said ‘get out of here, it’s my day,’ joked Gwen Rosemond, Salem State faculty member.
Harrington received a bachelor’s and master’s degree in education from Salem State and a doctorate from Boston University. As well as being the first woman, Harrington was also the first alumnus and native of Salem to serve as president.
“We have to remember that in 1990 it was quite unusual for a woman to be given the first place of leadership in an institution like this,” said Robert Lutts, president of the university’s trustees.
Harrington, who also served as the dean and vice-president of the college, retired in 2007. “Put simply, she was and still is considered by many to be the soul of the state of Salem,” said Lutts.
Harrington’s nephew Brian Mulholland, who graduated from Salem State in 1978, described his aunt as a dedicated leader, who helped make education more accessible.
“She was a very, very serious woman,” Mulholland said. “And she was very serious about the things that were important to her, like public education, diversity and breaking down the various economic barriers that stood between these children and a public education.”
Alex Slazar, who graduated in 2008, said she met Harrington one day in the campus dining hall. Slazar asked Harrington why she had lunch there.
“She said, ‘How can I be an effective leader, leading Salem State to change, if I don’t know where I should be leading us?’ Slazar said.
“Just because there’s a president in front of my name doesn’t mean I’m more important than anyone else. At the end of the day, we’re all Vikings from Salem State, aren’t we? ‘ “
Each of Harrington’s former classmates in attendance received a white rose in his honor. A framed photograph of the campus was also gifted to Mulholland and Neil Harrington, a cousin.
“Nancy has faced her fair share of skeptics throughout her career and has overcome obstacles. . . it would have deflated a person of lesser character, ”said Harrington, a former mayor of Salem. “Our family is very proud of her. We are very grateful to her alma mater for honoring her here today. She and the entire Harrington family will always be a part of Salem State. “