Clark mourns death of former president Richard P. Traina

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Two days after it opened in 1997, the University Park Campus School played host to state dignitaries including Governor Paul Cellucci. Called upon to speak, Clark President Richard P. Traina called the school’s first students forward to the podium with him, positioning the seventh graders in front of the politicians.

Donna Rodrigues, who was the principal at the time, remembers the moment well. “He would step right in front with those huge arms and bring a bunch of kids with him. I will never forget how many kids he could put under those arms — metaphorically and physically.”

Traina, who embraced and enhanced Clark’s transformative mission during his 16-year tenure, passed away at his home in Charlton, Mass., on March 8 at age 73 after living with cancer for several years.

“Dick will long be remembered for his passion and commitment to Clark. His energy and insights were essential in transforming the University and the community around us,” said President David Angel. “Dick was a friend, colleague, and mentor to the many people whose lives he touched.”

Watch a video tribute: In his final interview, Richard Traina recalls the challenges, accomplishments and joys of his 16 years as president of Clark University.

An obituary, article and editorial titled "A true educator: Traina's legacy secure" appear in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

President Angel noted that Traina’s legacy, exemplified by his commitment to academic excellence and community engagement, reflects Clark’s core values. The establishment of the University Park Campus School and other initiatives were testament to Traina’s visionary leadership when applying Clark’s intellectual resources to bring change to the world. “Dick had a vision of social responsibility that reached well beyond the campus,” Angel said.

Traina, who served from 1984 to 2000, oversaw a period of remarkable growth that included renewed emphasis on education programs, a significant increase of the endowment, and construction and renovation of physical facilities.

His work with the city of Worcester, particularly the Main South neighborhood, was groundbreaking. Through his example and under his directive, Clark began working with its neighbors to establish the University Park Partnership, which has brought renewed vitality to the Main South neighborhood. The partnership has since become a national model for urban university/community collaborations, and the University Park Campus School is touted as a national school reform model.

Under his leadership, Clark also helped establish the Main South Community Development Corporation, a vehicle organized to stimulate affordable housing and small business development in Clark’s surrounding neighborhood.

Jack Foley, Clark’s Vice President for Government and Community Affairs, said pinpointing Dick Traina’s legacy at Clark is simple: It’s the first graduating class from the University Park Campus School.

“The legacy that Dick leaves behind is in the kids and their chance for real academic success,” Foley said. “He saw in these children himself as a young kid and the opportunities that he received, and how he could make sure that these students had similar opportunities.”

Traina made sure he was part of the community where he worked, Foley added. “He pushed to move the president’s house to Main South – that was a big deal that we take for granted today. He was a national leader in this. He was one of just a few people saying that universities need to be involved more in their communities.”

“He would step right in front with those huge arms and bring a bunch of kids with him. I will never forget how many kids he could put under those arms — metaphorically and physically.” ~ Donna Rodrigues, former UPCS principal

Current University Park Campus School Principal Ricci Hall agreed. “From the very get-go, he had this transformative vision of not just what could happen in the neighborhood, but what could happen in the lives of the students.

“We track our alums and we know they are going into human service fields in greater proportion than other fields. We attribute that to the fact that they recognize Clark has given them, through President Traina, this opportunity and they have some responsibility to give that back. And I think that starts with Dick.”

Hall knew Traina well, having worked in the President’s Office for all four of his undergraduate years. He took advantage of Clark’s Accelerated B.A./Master’s Degree Program and did his student teaching at UPCS before joining the staff.

“I got to know President Traina on a real personal level, including seeing him as the president of the college. I was amazed at his presidential stature in terms of everything he did — he was the kind of person who, when he walked into a room, people stopped and looked to him, and listened.”

Rodrigues, a native of Main South, recalls a Clark University that was not open to the community. “It really had never reached out,” she said. No one was even allowed to walk through the campus, she added, until about 20 years ago — during Traina’s tenure.

Traina put particular emphasis on faculty and educational program support, the construction and renovation of physical facilities, international programs, endowment growth and community and neighborhood development. Under his stewardship the University’s endowment grew from $20 million to $150 million. He also oversaw the endowment of three new schools ― the Hiatt School of Psychology, the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, the Higgins School of Humanities and the Carlson School of Chemistry — and the number of endowed chairs for faculty rose from two to provision for 15.

“Dick Traina was a wonderful president for Clark University for 16 years,” said former Clark president John Bassett, who succeeded Traina in 2000. “The University and its alumni owe to him the whole strategy of working with our neighbors to rebuild the University Park neighborhood. Not only did that put Clark on the national map, but, to quote the late Senator Edward Kennedy, it was ‘the best example of how a university should relate with its community.’ Through it all Dick maintained high standards for the University and passed on to me an institution in good financial and academic shape.”

At a ceremony in January honoring Traina’s work with the Worcester business community, David Grenon, founder of the Protector Group Insurance Agency, called Traina “the moral compass for us in the community.”

And Richard Kennedy, president of the Chamber of Commerce, said that Traina, a former president of the chamber’s board of directors, “stitched together the academic and business communities. The involvement of colleges and universities in the city was led by Clark.”

Rodrigues recalled that every year the University Park Campus School students were invited to a holiday party hosted by Richard and Polly Traina at the president’s house. A small gesture perhaps, but one, she said, that illustrated his commitment to Clark and the people whose lives were touched through the efforts of the University.

“They became such a part of the neighborhood,” Rodrigues said. “He’s my hero. He walked the walk.”

Richard Traina is survived by his wife, Margaret Warner (Polly) Traina and three children: Cristina Traina Hutchison, Matthew Warner Traina and Michael Derek Traina, and 13 grandchildren. A daughter, Michelle Traina Riecke, predeceased him.

A funeral Mass was held at St. Peter’s Church on Saturday, March 12, followed by a reception in Tilton Hall.

-          Melissa Lynch Hoffmann '95, Marketing and Communications Assistant

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