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Chatham president treasures friend's example

Sunday, February 16, 2003

By Eleanor Chute, Post-Gazette Education Writer

A couple of years after Esther Barazzone became president of Chatham College, her mentor had a compelling question for the first-time college president:

It was: "Tell me, are you reading?"

Chatham College President Esther Barazzone. (John Beale, Post-Gazette)

Her mentor, Elizabeth McCormack, president of Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y., from 1966 to 1974, knew how difficult it can be for a top administrator to recharge her batteries.

Reached in New York City, McCormack explained: "Unless you continue to grow and unless your own intellectual curiosity develops through reading, you won't be as good at the job."

McCormack need not have worried. Barazzone, who became Chatham president in 1992, reads to unwind.

McCormack, now 80 and an adviser to members of the Rockefeller family, and Barazzone, 56, never sat down and decided one would mentor the other.

But a mentoring relationship has grown naturally over the more than 25 years since Barazzone was a junior faculty member at then Kirkland College in Clinton, N.Y., and McCormack was a board member there. Kirkland now is part of Hamilton College.

"You don't think you're a mentor as much as the person thinks you're mentoring them," said McCormack, who said the "chemistry has to be right."

She said one of the most important things a mentor can do is listen. "I think sometimes giving advice can be preaching, and it has to be a give-and-take. Esther and I talked things out."

After talking with McCormack, Barazzone said, "I always come away feeling I see the issues more clearly. ... I so much view her as the voice of sanity."

McCormack said Barazzone helps her, too. "I talk about what I'm doing, and she says, 'That sounds interesting' or 'Maybe you're doing too much.' I would describe it, rather than a mentor, I would say a friend."

Barazzone said she is one of many McCormack has helped, and others also have helped her along the way.

She said she has learned from McCormack's example.

"People find her intellectually strong and ethically strong and personally caring. That's what made her become so well-connected. She wasn't born to money. Her personal qualities have made people want to have her around."

McCormack said that Barazzone has become a "wonderful, clear-headed" college president, adding, "She does what she knows is right and is able to take the consequences. This is extremely important as a college president."

While they first met at Kirkland College in the mid-'70s, the mentoring deepened in the '80s at Swarthmore College. Barazzone was associate provost and director of corporate and foundation relations, and McCormack, then a philanthropic adviser to the Rockefeller Family & Associates, was a board member and was on Swarthmore's executive committee for fund-raising.

Barazzone credits McCormack with helping her learn how to build relationships with foundations. Perhaps one of the fruits of that is a recent $4 million gift by the Richard King Mellon Foundation to Chatham College.

She also relied on McCormack to talk with her about her career plans. And 10 years ago, when Barazzone was named president of Chatham College, McCormack was the guest speaker. Their photo together, smiling and wearing their academic robes, appeared on the cover of the Chatham alumnae magazine and is displayed near Barazzone's desk.

Over the years, the two have continued to meet, typically a couple of times a year when Barazzone is in New York City.

Last month, the two had breakfast at the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center in New York City. They talked about their lives, including McCormack's recent China trip as chairwoman of the Asian Cultural Council and Barazzone's trip to Haiti on behalf of a Chatham partnership. And they shared their philosophies on leadership.

"I treasure those times," said Barazzone. "I cannot tell you how lucky I have been to have her in my life."


Eleanor Chute can be reached at echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.

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