The Power of Pat Donovan
At the end of the school year, Pat Donovan has decided that after 39 years at Gould, the time is right to retire.
There are no words to describe how much she will be missed or an adequate way to describe the void she will leave. We would love to hear your memories and stories about Pat in the comments below!
The Power of Pat Donovan
By SARA WHALEN SHIFRIN ’88, P’19,’23
From the Winter/Spring 2019 GAzette
When I arrived at Gould in 1986 at 16 years old, Pat Donovan was the school nurse. I’d see her on the fields, the courts, and in the dorms with sons in tow. She always had a quick smile and knew names. One day, I needed a break from school and faked a fever by putting the thermometer on the radiator as Pat tended to another student. I rely on Brian Walker’s tribute of Pat to capture what happened next: with “an electric kindness and with a gleeful twinkle in those ‘can’t fool me’ eyes,’ Pat said, “I think you could use some time to yourself. Head to bed and let’s have a cup of tea when things settle down.” Pat’s compassionate and kind care is the baseline for her life’s work at Gould and, as Walker continues, “her kindness was immediate and deep, as familiar as the sun.”
For 39 years, Pat (née Power) and Neil Donovan have made the Bethel community their home –raising a family, nurturing lifelong friendships, pitching in with community projects, developing leadership groups at the local schools, and showing thousands of students and parents how to live “lives of purpose, action, excellence, and compassion in a dynamic world.”
Have you ever gotten a hug from Pat Donovan?
It’s a peak experience. If everyone knew, there’d be lines up and down Church Street. These hugs are warm and strong, and sincere. They’re all-in, generous, not tentative. Pat hugs like she means it. She pulls you in, wraps you up, squeezes you tight, and holds on for that extra moment that says, without words, that she’s really glad to see you.
These qualities — warmth, strength, sincerity, generosity, commitment — define Pat herself and what she’s brought to the Gould community. There is no doubt that she cares deeply about people, about Gould, about doing what is right. Sometimes — pretty often, I suspect — doing the right thing has meant making hard choices that not everyone agrees with. But it is Gould’s good fortune that Pat Donovan has been there to wrap her steady mind, big heart, and strong arms around everything and everybody under her care.”
— Kim Siebert MacPhail ’73, P’07
Recently, I sat down with Pat in the IDEAS Center after a morning of Winter Carnival games and asked her to tell the story of how she and Neil came to Bethel. With the low slant of winter light, she weaves together people and place — never wanting to miss recognizing how someone helped her journey.
In the late ’70s, Neil worked for a youth enrichment program and brought young people from inner-city Boston to the woods and mountains across New England. He fell in love with the Bethel area and began to dream of it as home. Pat laughs. “I was such a city girl!” she admits.
As she reflects on her transition to Maine, her deep roots for teaching and learning become clear. With her heart set on eventually working at Boston Children’s Hospital, she started her career at the Boston VA Medical Center, gaining a breadth of experience in nursing and intensive care. Working at a teaching hospital exposed her to the highest order of team teaching.
“Working at the teaching hospital was a gift,” she says. “I learned that everyone’s voice counted regardless of rank. Everyone was on a first-name basis and respect for each other’s strengths was demanded.” I am aware as we talk that I am sitting with a trailblazer.
Pat began her career at Gould as a part-time nurse. Working with students “felt great and very natural,” she says with a big smile. “I am the oldest of seven, you know. I can take care of kids.” She breaks out in an indefatigable smile. It’s good to see her pride break through decades of behind-the-scenes work.
Head of School Don Fudge saw the need for an energetic full-time person to “keep the wheels on the bus” of physical and mental health. So in 1981 Pat joined the faculty as a full-time nurse. She raves about the wonderful nurses and teachers she has worked with over the years as the Donovans grew as a family at Gould and in the community.
“Ki and I arrived in Bethel a year or so after Pat and Neil did,” recalls Head of School William Clough, “Pat as the school nurse and us as the newly minted headmaster couple. While our kids were off in college and not part of the Gould Academy scene, theirs most certainly were; and over the 18-year span we spent together they gave the whole Gould community an inside look at how to raise four sons from infancy, have lots of fun, and model how to care deeply for hundreds of Gould students and faculty families — all at the same time.”
If it ever becomes possible to dissect a successful boarding school, or maybe give it an MRI so we can evaluate its soft tissue, we’re bound to discover a Pat Donovan very near the source where life gets pumped out to the limbs. If the school is very lucky, it will find a Pat Donovan to work her magic for a 37-year infusion without notice or fanfare.”
— William Clough, former Head of School
Pat feels lucky to have been a working mother at Gould and is thankful to the community where many heroes and mentors helped her sons grow and thrive. The Donovan boys, many alumni will recall, would run around the fields as Pat tended to student needs. She rattles off a long list of babysitters, “tickle monsters,” and family dinners shared with students.
Pat’s years of developing the Health Center and raising a family symbolize the heart of a boarding school experience: compassionate adults caring for students and inviting them into healthy lifelong relationships.
“When I think back on our years at Gould,” says Sallie Felton P’99,’02,’05, “one person stands out: Pat Donovan. There were countless phone calls where Pat would begin by saying, ‘Corey/Sarah/Taylor (pick one) is fine, BUT he/she has had frostbite / broken two wrists / dislocated an elbow / twisted an ankle /pulled their back out / had acute shin splints / got hit in the face by a lacrosse ball, and/or had another concussion …’ I believe she had us on speed dial. There was always a reassuring tone in her voice followed by a chuckle. She knew those for whom she treated or cared for both physically and mentally. It’s no wonder her leadership skills could transfer over to a senior leadership position.”
“She taught me that life is a learning experience,” says trustee Jan Skelton ’84. “We do our best to figure it out, we make mistakes, we learn from them, we brush ourselves off when we fall, we help others up when they fall, and we become better. What Pat showed me was that what mattered most was a solid moral compass and a true desire to be the best one could be. Pat was the north star of many students’ Gould experience.”
Head of School Dan Kunkle and then board president Deborah Hammond ’61 (the first woman in that role) saw in Pat extraordinary leadership potential. Dan offered her the position of Assistant Head in 2006. In 2013, she was promoted to Associate Head and COO.
“She is one of those rare people who has achieved the ability to listen, consider, and act with her intellect, heart, and soul,” says Kunkle, recalling her strength and power during the hardest time of boarding school work — disciplinary cases.
“Who can forget the faculty meetings when she summarized the facts of a difficult situation,” he says. “Then, with hand on heart, shared the feelings she heard from the people involved, and any extenuating circumstances. She reminded us of the ethical principles involved, thus helping us achieve an informed, compassionate, and fair decision.”
Effective leaders pursue “goals that align with their personal values and advance the collective good,” writes Herminia Ibarra in the Harvard Business Review. They are seen as authentic and trustworthy, she writes, “because they are willing to take risks in the service of shared goals. By connecting others to a larger purpose, they inspire commitment, boost resolve, and help colleagues find deeper meaning in their work.”
From the start, Pat discovered that her personal values could advance the collective good at Gould. She instituted a day of service and learning on MLK Day, transformed the Infirmary to a Health Center, steered a grade-level wellness seminar, created distributive leadership positions, formalized the advisory program, and ‘cleared the lanes’ for clubs, committees, ideas, and opportunities in the service of a stronger student experience.
But perhaps the largest test of impact and influence is when students recognize that authenticity in her.
“I was a rebellious kid who didn’t understand the art of doing the right thing,” says Arturo Fernandez ’16. “I learned how to do the right thing in times of uncertainty, and Pat was a pivotal figure of my experience at Gould. I carry Gould everywhere I go; I brag about Gould; I am a patriot of Gould, and I know that Pat has touched countless lives. I am one of them.”
Senior Aerin Young, who traveled with Pat on a Ninth Grade Four Point trip to Tanzania, admires her as a female leader.
“Mrs. Donovan balances her job and her commitment to the students of Gould,” says Aerin, “and she is always eager to hear the other perspective. Her ability to see the best in every person is something that I continue to look up to today. She is unafraid to be herself and yet even more fearless when it comes to doing what she thinks is right.”
Pat’s life’s work at Gould is purpose driven: Do what’s best for the kids, and lead with her head and her heart. And time has come to trust the foundation she has laid, brick by brick, for Gould to continue to grow and thrive.
“From her first year to her last, I know that Pat continues to love the students, guide the parents, and support the faculty,” says former Associate Head of School and longtime friend Will Graham. “She was the first female administrator to serve on the senior administrative team. Pat leads with her heart, and she acts with the best interests of the students in mind. She laughs freely and easily with the unexpected joys of boarding school living, and she is a rock when the going gets tough and life lessons are hard to learn. People who work closely with Pat respect her unwavering and lifelong commitment to advancing Gould Academy. Her record of leadership and service speaks for itself.”