People and Passing
One of the hardest things about having a strong relationship is when it ends. I arguably have one of the best jobs on the planet – working with current and future alumni of this institution, learning about their lives, watching their successes, meeting their families. It’s wonderfully gratifying to have built a relationship with someone who in turn cares enough to share news of their nuptials and births, new jobs, requests for help and support for the university. The downside of this work is that many of those I work with eventually leave us too early.
The first time this happened I had been at Willamette for about three years. Nancy Stuart ’47 was an amazing and delightful alumna whom I had the great fortune to meet early in my work in annual giving. The first time I met her, I was impressed. A single woman, she had spent her career in marketing and advertising at a time when women seldom did such things. She’d found her interest in the field while at Willamette, ultimately working in radio, advertising and higher education marketing, at one point returning to Willamette to serve as the director of information and alumni affairs, where she developed the concept of Barney the Bearcat.
When I met her, of course, she was long past retirement, but her impact on me – the struggles and successes she’d had in her life – left me inspired and determined to make the most of the opportunities I’d been given. What further impressed me was that for decades she had been making annual gifts to the university. Each year, she’d include a note for me lamenting that it couldn’t be more, and each year I would remind her how much of a difference she’d made to this institution. Our visits went on for three years, our relationship growing over time.
When I learned of her passing, I was crushed. It hadn’t really occurred to me that this, too, was part of the job. Then, shortly following the notice, I received word that Ms. Stuart had left 10% of her estate to Willamette in support of student scholarships. This was a woman who had spent her life working toward her dreams and helping others. Words cannot describe how touched I was at her final act of selflessness. Although it was hard to lose her, I felt buoyed by the idea that with her scholarship she would continue to encourage other young women to take on challenges, just as she had with me.
Since that time, a number of alumni, staff and faculty with whom I’ve built relationships during my ten years have passed. It doesn’t get any easier, but I find solace and inspiration in the impact each of them has had on those around them. With each passing comes the retrospection that we all have a choice about how we take on this world and how we treat those in it. And time and again I’m reminded that those from Willamette do it best.
Not unto ourselves alone are we born.
Denise Callahan '95, MBA'00
Interim Vice President of Development and Alumni Relations