NORTHAMPTON — Mary Maples Dunn, Smith College’s eighth president, died peacefully on Sunday at 85, leaving behind many achievements and fond memories from the countless lives she touched.
“Everyone liked to be in her company,” said Kathleen McCartney, current president of Smith College. “She was amazing.”
Dunn, a resident of Cambridge and Philadelphia, died while visiting relatives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Speaking from her office Monday, McCartney looked at a bowl decorated with scenes of Smith — a gift from Dunn.
When McCartney first got her position as Smith’s 11th president, in 2013, she and Dunn were both working at Harvard and Dunn threw a party at the Harvard Faculty Club to introduce her to other Smith faculty. Dunn’s dedication to celebrating the community was one of her greatest qualities, McCartney recalled.
For the party, Dunn personally made floral arrangements from her garden to use as centerpieces. She arranged a centerpiece for McCartney to take home, in the decorative bowl that now sits in her office.
“She loved Smith,” McCartney said.
Dunn took her position as president at Smith in 1985 and served for 10 years. She retired in 1995.
In one decade, her administration added five new majors, raked in record numbers of applicants and balanced the school’s budget. Her administration created programs (such as the 1988 Smith Design for Institutional Diversity program) and changed policies to recognize issues of race and sexuality.
She also oversaw the raising of $300 million, construction of Bass Hall and Young Science Library, and the doubling of Smith’s endowment.
“She was a trailblazer,” McCartney said of Dunn, describing her as a role model. “She saw criticism of Smith as caring about the institution.”
Before working at Smith, Dunn was a professor, dean and academic deputy to the president at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.
“(Dunn) was a close friend and colleague for almost 60 years,” said Pat McPherson, a Smith graduate who later served as Bryn Mawr’s president. “A talented teacher with wide ranging scholarly interests, she made a lasting impression on her many colleagues and on the institutions she served with such energetic commitment.”
Dunn’s accomplishments did not end when she retired from Smith. After leaving in 1995, she spent five years as director of the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women. In 1999, she led Radcliffe College through its integration with Harvard, where it became the Radcliffe Institute.
At the Radcliffe Institute, Dunn was a fellow until 2001 and then co-executive officer of the American Philosophical Society alongside her husband until 2007.
Dunn demonstrated resilience through the various challenges she faced. “She always presented herself as being fine with whatever was; you knew she could handle anything,” said McCartney.
“A leader can stay steady in the face of adversity,” McCartney said. “The community took a lot of comfort from that.”
McCartney said she would miss Dunn’s sense of humor and caring nature.
Dunn leaves behind her husband, Richard Dunn, two daughters, Rebecca Dunn and Cecilia Dunn, and her brother, the Rev. Fred Maples.
Funeral service plans are to be announced. Although plans are not set yet, McCartney expects to honor Dunn’s remembrance at Smith.