GCC President Bob Pura on his last few days at the helm

  • After 18 years as president of Greenfield Community College, Bob Pura prepares for his retirement, cleaning up his office in his final days. Recorder Staff/Joshua Solomon

  • A Folk Master harmonica Bob Pura used to play. After 18 years as president of Greenfield Community College, Pura prepares for his retirement by cleaning up his office in his final days. Recorder Staff/Joshua Solomon—

  • The inscription Bob Pura’s dissertation advisor wrote to him. After 18 years as president of Greenfield Community College, Pura prepares for his retirement by cleaning up his office in his final days. Recorder Staff/Joshua Solomon—

  • Reading an old Greenfield Recorder, Bob Pura prepares for his retirement by cleaning up his office in his final days, after 18 years as president of Greenfield Community College. Recorder Staff/Joshua Solomon

  • A collection of items Bob Pura found while cleaning up his office in his final days, after 18 years as president of Greenfield Community College. Recorder Staff/Joshua Solomon—

  • While cleaning his office in his final days, Robert Pura found a drawing a student made of him from his first few years when he held pizza with the president. After 18 years as president of Greenfield Community College, Pura officially retired last weekend. Recorder Staff/Joshua Solomon

For the Gazette
Published: 7/3/2018 10:23:27 PM

GREENFIELD — Robert Pura likes to have his thoughts collected ahead of time. Though he seemingly can recite a speech without reading off a sheet of paper, that document is typically right there for reference.

Preparation has been a big part of what has made “Bob” tick for the past 18 years.

That’s why it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when Pura sat with a printed paper, an essay of sorts, in preparation for an interview in his office on his finals days at Greenfield Community College last week.

The walls were now all but bare of the artwork and photographs, the poetry and the thank-you cards that had filled his presidential office walls. Packing up, the mementos were now scattered around the room, as he began talking about what his retirement means to him.

He found comfort in talking about not himself, but the items in the room: a Folk Master harmonica he used to play; a Recorder newspaper clipping of the college’s plans to move to its current location; a caricature of himself a student made of him sometime in the first few years of his tenure when he decided to host pizza with the president sessions; a book signed by Pura’s dissertation adviser, addressed to “One best buddy, Bob Pura, who walks the talk and practices well what we mostly preach.”

Recently, Pura heard a saying from the college’s recently rebooted outdoor learning class. Oftentimes, you “paddle the water in front of you,” he said, pointing to what he has felt like he has had to do. “When you’re too busy, that’s what you do.”

Since he announced his retirement last August, it’s been challenging for him to talk about anything beyond GCC.

“I can stand in front of 10,000 people or 10 people and feel very comfortable talking about the college or of our students,” Pura said. He looked down, up and back down at his written thoughts.

At every event he’s gone to, it seems there’s a speaker who feels the need to remind him he’s retiring after nearly two decades at the college. It’s played out something like when David “Big Papi” Ortiz announced his retirement before the end of his final season in baseball, he said.

“It’s humbling,” Pura said, but, “It’s been quite uncomfortable for instead of the focus on the college, to have the focus on me.”

Education’s future

While his self-reflections might not be finished, there are some thoughts that have clearly formed: his views for the future of education, particularly for community colleges and here in Greenfield.

“For the life of me, I can’t understand why we can’t have a more robust commitment for a debt-free education for our students,” Pura said. “I know there are a lot of demands on the budget, but investing in our students, who are the future, is really important.”

Pura recited one of his self-made maxim’s, “As go the community colleges, so goes our economy. As go the community colleges, so goes our democracy. As go the community colleges, so goes the commonwealth.”

Pura called for the state to reconsider having faculty teach five courses instead of the older model of four courses, allowing them to focus more on their students and teaching them.

“The future is about the success of our students,” Pura said. “People here get it, but I’m not sure the rest of the state gets it.”

Part of what has made Pura so celebrated has been his tenure. He said he is one of the longest lasting presidents of a two- or four-year college in recent years.

“We have become a quarterly society and things are moving in a fast pace,” Pura said. “It’s unfortunate a long-term tenure is so unique.”

He said it’s important to focus on sustainability. This means not only renewable energy, Pura said, but economic stability, and that comes with having leaders in place for longer stretches to see out a vision, without operating under the pretense of short-term goals.

As for Pura’s vision moving forward, he said he’ll take six months to take a break before entering the next phase of his post-retirement career. He did note he has had many offers in these past months, but has turned them down to give himself further time.

“In this transition, I’m not allowing myself to feel the hard part of this transition,” Pura said.

He flipped through the framed pictures and paintings he’s taking with him.

One of Pura’s signature moves at the college was having student artwork hanging in buildings and in his office. All of that is staying. What he is taking with him is his poster of Albert Einstein riding a bicycle, a poster of Ellis Island — a talking point of his that has become something of his signature metaphor on the role community college should and can function in the country.

He continued to flip through the small collection he put aside to take with him. There were a couple of drawings his daughter made that he had framed. One was one from 1999, right before he started working at the college, and the other a self-portrait his daughter made a few years later. He talked proudly, as he often does, about his daughter and where she is now, working on her dissertation. She’s grown up since those Crayon scribbles and since that time, Pura has created a legacy at Greenfield Community College, even if he’s not ready to reflect on that yet.

“I know I’m starting to let that in,” he said, going off script from his prepared remarks. “Down the road, when I’m driving or mowing the lawn, those emotions will get to me.”




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