A piece of Manhattanville College died when sister Ruth Dowd passed on Friday, May 31, 2019, four months after her 100th birthday. People will look at those dates and say “she had a good run,” or “she had a good life.” And while that is true, the fact is those who really knew her know there is much more to her story!
Obituaries tell us about a person’s life; where they are from, went to school, worked, their family etc.
They are benign by nature…
Let me tell you my thoughts about the PERSON, and bear in mind, I met her when she hired me 13 years ago…when she was merely 87!
Ruth is one of my favorite names. Aside from being the eighth book in the Bible, and only one of two named after women in the Old and New Testaments, it was my Grandmother’s (mother’s side) name. You want to talk about special people????
Sister Ruth Dowd hired me in 2006 to run the sport business management program at Manhattanville College. I took the interviews, but I really was kind of like, “well, this is something I should be thinking about in 15 to 20 years,” but when speaking to her and her associate Don Richards, and their team, I just felt like I belonged. I was hired and there’s no doubt that the main reason I was so, was because her two dogs, Dudley and Jolie, liked me, (hey I AM a dog person!—well, at least I thought they did until one of them left a package under my chair the first week I was there. Maybe that was my initiation!)
Nobody knew more about the college, its history, the history of the castle and all of the special rooms therein, how they “were shipped from Europe,” the ceilings, the paintings, the walls, the ghosts—she knew. She would claim boastfully that, “it was not the husband but the wife who had the money,” when Ambassador Reid donated all that precious land to the College of the Sacred Heart, which was housed in the Manhattanville section of Harlem, the then all girls Catholic college which would see so many changes thereafter. But the one constant that came out to the suburbs was the nun who loved tight writing, demanded dedication and hard work.
Sister Ruth, to me, was the glue, the link to the past and “Ruth” will live in infamy through her writing program and through this graduate school she started. Whether you call it Graduate and Professional Studies, a school of business or school of professional studies, whatever the nomenclature—to me it’s Ruth Dowd’s legacy. She is the smartest person I have met on this campus who somehow gained an amazing business sense.
The successful program in sport business management is her legacy, not mine. Ruth Dowd deserves the credit! Several years before my joining the staff at the college, a report was commissioned (at a high fee) to determine what graduate programs the college should pursue. The report, in its great wisdom, exclaimed that “a Sports Business Management program would not be successful at the college.” Sister Ruth Dowd did not care what the report said; she liked the idea and moved forward, with then President Richard Berman’s full understanding and support. The rest as they say is history.
God, I loved her spunk!
I like to keep lists and make notes on things that need to get done at work and my personal life, projects around the house etc. One of the things that I put on this list for the past several years was to go see Sister Ruth in Albany. And every time I looked at the list, I failed to cross that off. I felt bad about my not giving that more importance and lamented the supposed busyness that kept me from getting up to see her, and I regret that.
Sister Ruth Dowd had a kindness and a kindred spirit that I felt connected to from day one. I know that years earlier she had more of an edge, and I saw that in bits and pieces. Pounding on her desk to one of our senior administrators exclaiming the need to market the programs, (am I right Mary Corrarino?) or walking in my office after somebody left hers stating, “that guy was a jerk.” OK, she didn’t use the word “jerk,” but hey, she was human! She had her feelings. But my guess is the dogs did not care for him or vice versa.
I saw her react to tragic situations and it just struck me how gentle and stoic she was, not because she didn’t care but she just had a peace about her–she was a tough bird. She was demanding. She wanted people to work hard. She wanted people to care. She loved what she did and she staked her place in the academic world. She “got it.”
Sister Ruth Dowd was endearing. She was fun to be around and when we did a good job in our department on a big project, she rewarded us with a nice lunch celebration. She kept herself sharp, sometimes by playing solitaire on the computer, certainly by reading and asking lots of questions. On her way home, especially at the beginning, she would stop at my office, which was next to hers and ask me, “what were you able to accomplish today, David?” I would give her a litany of things that I was working on and she would nod her head and say, “see you tomorrow.”
I think beyond her work, she earned my respect and admiration not just because of her prowess in academics, but because she somehow had the innate ability as a good person of business. I don’t know how she acquired this and maybe it was just a natural function of being a woman, who in all honesty are more savvy to begin with, and added the bonus of being a a nun!
She understood the way business worked, how to do business and more importantly how to both drive and respect people.
I love her for that, and I love her for the fact that she hired me and that she (and Don and Dudley and Jolie) thought enough of me to build this program, to sustain it and maintain it, 500+ graduates and almost thirteen years later and still going strong, and at the end of the day I’ve worked at this job longer than any job in my career!
She will always be in our hearts. She’ll live on probably in these buildings along with the other spirits who are around and although I failed to do so with her, I hope that she comes and visits me…a lot!
One of the Castle stories she liked to tell was that it was haunted. I have had several interactions in my office with the lights going on and off and I just say out loud, “I don’t really care, just pick one, on or off!?”
I was unable to make those trips to Albany to see her. I hope that she comes back to the Castle however and haunts me every day, keeping me on my toes, I’d love to hear her ask me, “David, what have you accomplished today?”
Rest in peace, my friend.