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President C. Peter Magrath takes a seat in the new chair that was given to him as a retirement gift at a Dec. 6 reception as vice presidents Marcia Craner, left, Bahgat Sammakia, second from left, Jim Van Voorst, center, Brian Rose and Interim Provost Jean-Pierre (Peter) Mileur and Magrath's wife, the Rev. Susan Thon, applaud during the celebration at Old Union Hall in the University Union.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
University honors C. Peter Magrath
December 7, 2011Tweet
The man who has served as Binghamton University’s youngest and oldest president was honored by the campus community Dec. 6 for his ageless energy, enthusiasm and optimistic leadership.
In turn, President C. Peter Magrath paid tribute to those who make Binghamton University thrive on a daily basis.
“This is a very special place,” he said. “It’s special because everybody who serves here really cares about the enterprise. … Whether they are shoveling snow or cutting grass or they are faculty in the laboratory – people really care. And that makes this place unbelievably special.”
Magrath, 78, will retire at the end of the month after beginning a second term as president on July 1, 2010. He previously served as president from 1972-1974.
Hundreds of faculty and staff members, administrators, students and dignitaries came to Old Union Hall for a reception to celebrate Magrath’s tenure. Magrath and his wife, the Rev. Susan Thon, mingled with guests for the first hour before listening to tributes from state Sen. Thomas Libous; Kevin McCabe, regional representative for Gov. Andrew Cuomo; SUNY Trustee Ronald Ehrenberg; Binghamton University Council Chair Kathryn Grant Madigan; Interim Provost Jean-Pierre (Peter) Mileur; Vice President for Administration Jim Van Voorst; and Faculty Senate Executive Committee Chair Richard Lee.
Van Voorst, who served as the master of ceremonies, kicked off the tributes with an eloquent four-minute address that summarized Magrath’s second-term accomplishments and highlighted his leadership skills.
“His commitment was evident at the press conference that announced his appointment,” Van Voorst said. “His statement was ‘I’m the president for the interim, not the interim president.’ That was a major statement that set the tone while he was here.”
In 18 months, Van Voorst said, Magrath named a new athletic director, promoted enrollment growth, strengthened the University’s relationship with SUNY Upstate Medical University, helped to expand the University’s healthcare initiative, opened doors for international collaboration, served on the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council and lobbied for Binghamton’s inclusion in the NYSUNY 2020 legislation.
Magrath’s leadership style during a significant budget reduction has been key, Van Voorst said: “Our coffers would be a bit larger if I had a dollar for every time he said to me ‘Relax, Jim. Don’t get upset about this. We will work it out.’
“Peter’s positive, can-do attitude is the greatest contribution that (he) has made to the University,” he added. “That attitude was exactly what this University needed in the last year and a half. He was untiring in his own efforts as well as shoring up others when needed to keep Binghamton University – as he would say – ‘that great university.’”
Other speakers also emphasized Magrath’s leadership skills. Libous, who read a Senate resolution honoring Magrath, said that optimism and persuasiveness played a major role in the NYSUNY 2020 talks.
“He came here when things weren’t the best,” Libous said. “We have ups and downs. And he came for an interim presidency, but every day he functioned as if he was never leaving. He functioned as if he was the president for another 10-20 years. He did it because he cared about you and this community. He really loves this University. That came through.”
McCabe said he has enjoyed getting to know Magrath while on the regional economic development council.
“When he speaks, you listen because he speaks sensibly,” McCabe said. “He approaches issues in a calm, delicate fashion. Results come from that kind of approach.”
Lee, speaking for the University’s faculty members, said “we are grateful for the legacy of optimism and the sense of forward motion you promoted.
“This man’s outgoing personality and strong sense of who he is, joined with an uncommon depth and intelligence, made him the right person to help each of us individually – and the campus as a whole – achieve the best that we were capable of in a time that could have been so much more difficult,” Lee said.
Mileur, Van Voorst and vice presidents Martha Craner, Brian Rose and Bahgat Sammakia presented Magrath with their vision of what retirement will look like: a University chair featuring the Binghamton crest, a through-the-years book of photographs, a “Red Sox fans welcome” sign and a framed photo and map of a Nature Preserve trail that will be named for Magrath.
The reception also featured some moments that showcased Magrath’s sense of humor. When he saw the chair in his “retirement corner,” he exclaimed: “It’s not a rocking chair!” And when Madigan paused while saying that the “ceremonial hanging” of the presidential portrait will take place Dec. 16, Magrath jokingly reached for his neck and wiped his brow.
But Magrath became serious when making his final comments to the well-wishers. He praised incoming President Harvey G. Stenger Jr. as someone who will be “a good, strong president.” And he said he is ready to move on to a new life with his new wife.
“I will miss this place, but I feel very, very happy,” he said. “I regard this presidency as the capstone of my career. I want to say: God bless all of you that are here. God bless this community of Binghamton and the Southern Tier. And God bless Binghamton University.”