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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Alumni

After 43 Years

July-August 2002

In her early days at the Harvard Alumni Association, Joanne K. Woods not only worked closely with the board of directors, she took care of almost everything else around the office: human resources, payroll, supplies, the reception area. "If the Xerox machine broke down, I was the person to call," she says. "If someone felt too hot or too cold, they called me to fix it."

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Joanne Woods

Of late, her role has been more narrowly defined. As assistant director of board services, she organized events and information for the board, and served as liaison for the Happy Observance of Commencement Committee. But some of the hundreds of alumni who worked with her for the last 24 years still turned to her for help—which she consistently provided with a knowing smile. "I've been here so long—it's the institutional memory," she says. Just before Commencement, for example, Woods received a call from the Boston Globe asking her for a list of Harvard's Commencement speakers. "Someone gave them my name, and thought I would have the answer to that—off the top of my head," says Woods, laughing. "The Globe wanted everyone from the last century. I thought, 'Gee, I haven't been around that long.'" She patiently listened, and sent them to the correct place—University Archives. "I've always believed in customer service," she explains, "and doing as much as we can to get people an answer."

It's true. Her hard work, grace, and congenial spirit have deeply affected the organization, which is why her retirement at the end of June demanded more than a simple good-bye party. "She's a solid person, a model of everything you would like to see," and the "ultimate loyalist," says HAA executive director John P. Reardon Jr. "She's always way out ahead of you, and remembers all the things you might forget. She's also a great goodwill ambassador," he adds. "The alumni are always drawn to her—her style is such that they love her."

Woods came to work at Harvard's Office of the Governing Boards as a staff assistant in 1959, fresh out of Colby College. "It's been a long one. It's been a great one—obviously," she says of her career. "Otherwise I wouldn't have stayed here all this time." She spent a decade working for William Bentinck-Smith, assistant to President Nathan Pusey; then worked at the previous incarnation of the HAA for a year (1971-2), before moving to the Office of Alumni Affairs and Development at Holyoke Center; then on to athletic fundraising (where she first met Jack Reardon). She returned to the HAA for good in 1978, under the leadership of David Aloian. Over the years, says Wood, she has seen the organization grow from a "club-like" group of College graduates into a much larger, more dynamic and diverse organization focused on University-wide endeavors.

As for her own immediate plans, Woods says she might use one of her retirement gifts—plane tickets to travel anywhere in the United States—to visit Glacier National Park. Reinvigorating her golf game is also high on the list, as is reading, playing bridge, and volunteering through her Wellesley church. Retired friends say, "'You need some structure, you can't waste the days,'" she says, "but I don't think that will be a problem." She talks of missing colleagues and alumni, and "ending my relationships with all the wonderful people I've worked so closely with over the years. That is the hardest part."

~N.P.B.