"Not Afraid to Suggest or Advise"
Teachers College celebrates Abby O’Neill’s lifetime of contributions to education
Abby O’Neill is dynamic and wise.
Got a dilemma? Let her scrutinize.
She’s not afraid to suggest or advise.
That’s why the lady is a champ.
Those sentiments, sung aloud to the tune of the old Rodgers and Hart chestnut at a special luncheon held in Abby O’Neill’s honor on Thursday, May 16, were emphatically seconded – and thirded, and fourthed. Later in the day, the College would announce that it had received an $11 million gift from O’Neill to support scholarships for aspiring teachers, but the tributes for the longtime TC Trustee and Rockefeller family scion clearly reflected a broader legacy of contribution.
“Abby can be as fiery as her red hair, but her outspokenness is testament to her passion for all she does and her deep faith in the power of education,” said TC President Susan Fuhrman, leading off the luncheon in O’Neill’s honor at New York City’s University Club. “Abby gives 100 percent to whatever she takes on – and we’re so glad her commitment to service and to excellence has benefited TC in so many ways, and will continue to benefit the children of this city for years to come.”
Declaring that “there’s a pretty good argument to be made that the Rockefellers invented the field of private philanthropy,” Thomas Bailey, TC’s George and Abby O’Neill Professor of Economics and Education and the director of two centers that conduct extensive research on community colleges, thanked O’Neill for endowing the O’Neill Chair.
“You’ve given me the chance to develop my own work and career at TC, through which I’ve gained a tremendous amount of personal satisfaction,” he said. “But you’ve also given me the opportunity to build, with the help of many of my colleagues, a research program and center devoted to studying community colleges – institutions that provide the opportunity for college education to millions of students who otherwise would have a very difficult time going beyond high school. And finally, in recent years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with educators in many countries to use the lessons we’ve learned in our community college work to open and democratize higher education around the world.”
TC Trustee Nancy Rauch Douzinas, who joined the College’s Board at O’Neill’s urging, called O’Neill “a great mentor” who “taught me what a good manager you have to be to be a great leader.”
Douzinas, who serves as President of the Rauch Foundation, a Long Island-based family foundation, said that “everyone I ever met through Abby has been first class – and so when she said to me, ‘You know, you should think about joining Teachers College, because as far as the future of education goes, it would be a great place for you to be’ – well, she was right about that, too.”
Donald Cuneo, President and CEO of International House of New York, also thanked O’Neill for mentoring him “when I was a wet-behind-the ears graduate student at Columbia” 47 years ago.
O’Neill, who has served for 55 years on the board of International House – an institution also founded by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. together with members of the Dodge Family – “taught me almost everything I know about International House,” Cuneo said. He noted that the histories of International House and Teachers College “are intertwined,” with both serving as a proving ground for “people who are able to work across diversity and cultures.”
Cuneo called O’Neill’s leadership “exceptional,” and saluted her “devotion to promoting international understanding and peerless contribution toward the educational and cultural appreciation opportunities for young people around the world.”
At the close of the occasion, and with O’Neill’s children – Peter O’Neill, Wendy O’Neill, Catherine O’Neill Broderick and Abby “Gail” O’Neill Caulkins – and their families looking on, TC Board Co-Chair Bill Rueckert read aloud a resolution by the Board naming O’Neill a Trustee Emerita of the College. Then O’Neill herself stepped to the podium. She expressed her gratitude to “such dear friends who have been such wonderful colleagues.” The she thanked Fuhrman, whom she called “a wonderful leader, not only of TC, but in education worldwide.”
“And that’s important,” she said, “because Teachers College is really an international institution – and there are teachers from everywhere.”