Volume 78 | Issue 4
July 2010

Executive Director's Column: In thankfulness that she was

Marsha Herman-Betzen
Collectively we are the Association of College Unions International—an incredibly diverse group of institutions who come together to form a remarkable community. And yet, it is the equally different individuals who touch our lives that truly make this organization so extraordinary. One of those individuals who meant so much to our professional neighborhood was Adell McMillan. She passed away at the beginning of May, and her professional accomplishments are highlighted later in this Bulletin. An obituary does not always tell the complete story, so please indulge me as I share some of the personal stories that made knowing Adell such a privilege.

My first ACUI conference was in Dallas in 1982, the year Adell gave her speech as president. I was so impressed with her message and the grace in which it was delivered that I knew I had found a professional home with ACUI. That year, I applied and was selected for a spot on the cherished Conference Program Committee. On my way to the committee’s preconference meeting in Hot Spring, Va., I ran into Adell in the Richmond airport (she was travelling to the executive committee’s preconference meeting).

So picture this: Adell is standing at the ticket counter, and we have never met. I recognize her from the speech she gave in Dallas a year ago. I walk up to the ticket counter where she is conducting personal business, grab her hand, and I keep shaking it the entire time I am speaking as I say, “Oh my goodness! You are Adell McMillan, aren’t you? I heard you speak at the conference last year and you inspired me so much that I applied to be on the Conference Program Committee, and I was selected. Can you believe it? Anyway, I just wanted you to know what you said really resonated with me, and I have made the decision to make ACUI my professional home, all because of you.”

Poor Adell was flabbergasted and all she could utter was: “Thank you!” Adell told that story for the next 27 years, and her impersonation of me was spot-on. She later told me she was so taken aback by being recognized and approached by this animated stranger with big hair; she was literally speechless and had always wished she could have said something more memorable.
Years later, when I applied to become executive director, Adell was one of the few of her generation who was supportive. I will never forget the long talks, helpful advice, and support she so freely gave me. I would melt when she would call me “Dear.” In the early years of being executive director, I don’t think I would have survived without Adell. I will never forget her reading the riot act to one of her contemporaries because she thought he was being totally unfair, telling him he was “a big bag of hot air” and to “knock it off.”

The day I notified the ACUI past presidents about Adell’s passing, they responded with touching testimonials about how they remembered their friend and colleague. The one I will never forget was from Jay Boyar, formerly of Prince George Community College, who said: “For me, Adell’s leadership and memory is best defined not just by what she did, or what she said, but what she was. What ultimately describes Adell is the quote, ‘be such a person and live such a life that if every person were a person such as you and every life was a life such as yours, this earth would be God’s paradise.’ In all Adell’s endeavors she has established a ‘God’s Paradise’.”

 Adell McMillan will never wholly leave us. She will live on by the acts of goodness she has performed and remain in the hearts of all she has touched. We will remember Adell by telling wonderful stories. We will remember Adell by looking at pictures and recalling the times we were together. We will remember by sharing who Adell was with those who walk into the art gallery that bears her name and will help to keep her legacy alive.

There is a Hebrew proverb that gives me comfort when I think of Adell: “Say not in grief ‘she is no more,’ but live in thankfulness that she was.”