Remembering Gene Savage and Chester College

Upon learning of the death at age 77 of Eugene Savage of Durham, former University of New Hampshire and University System of New Hampshire administrator, teacher, director of admissions, legislative representative and all-around public citizen, Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, himself in this category, bemoaned the fact that “New Hampshire seems to be losing all of the good guys.”Savage was a native of North Stratford, in the far North Country. From there he went to Plymouth State University (then Plymouth State Teachers College), where he met his wife Joan and embarked on a career in education, first as a teacher and coach, later as director of admissions at UNH, a university system trustee, vice chancellor of the university system, and later government relations consultant at the Rath, Young and Pignatelli law firm.Savage was known to generations of UNH students as the admissions official who admitted them to the university or counseled them on an alternate path that served them well. Gov. John Lynch, Mayor Ted Gatsas and literally thousands of others fondly remembered Gene Savage as the gatekeeper who allowed them entrance to their college career and life thereafter.What was commonly recalled at calling hours held May 21 at Huddleston Hall at UNH, and then at the memorial service on campus the following day, was Savage’s constant and calm good cheer and friendly demeanor.Those with whom he worked at the Legislature remembered his quiet presence outside the legislative halls or committee rooms receiving the word that the action he awaited had been taken, and then quietly leaving, saying his job had been accomplished, often without the necessity of having said anything in public.Civility, good cheer, public spiritedness and a dedication to education are traits that not only are needed in Concord, but should be remembered as true leadership.*****A different kind of passing was the closure of small Chester College of New England, which announced its doors were closing after a tenuous existence since the 1960s, first as a two-year school, then as a four-year college of liberal arts, concentrating in art and writing.The faculty and staff of the college, along with the board of trustees, tried everything they could attempt to keep operating in the face of overwhelming odds. Long the cause of a couple of generous founders and donors, the college was on fragile financial footing throughout its existence, and recent demographic and economic changes sealed its fate, despite valiant efforts by students and employees to raise funds to try to keep the college going.Interestingly, at the end, rather than recognize the reality of the situation, frustrated employees and students looked for someone or something to blame, when in fact it was all of the environmental factors facing the college that resulted in its demise, especially the enrollment shortfall.While it is natural to look for a target of blame, the board rightly put out a statement saying that President Robert Baines, former Manchester mayor, probably kept the college operating for several years longer than it otherwise would have had he not provided leadership to it.Chester College joins a list of New Hampshire institutions no longer serving students, including Belknap College, Franconia College, Nathaniel Hawthorne College and Notre Dame College. It will be missed, although its alumni will remember the valuable experience they had at the College and be better for it.*****In interesting action in Concord on May 23, the Executive Council confirmed James Bassett of Canterbury as a member of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, by a vote of 4-1.This action came in spite of last-minute mischief by certain right-wing groups who made all kinds of spurious assertions that positions taken by the nominee in past campaigns were some kind of disqualification because they indicated what actions he would take as a judge. Observers of such predictions of judicial action noted that in the past they had been inaccurate.Also, Bassett’s responses during his confirmation hearing regarding the Claremont decisions, all reasoned and accurate, somehow were asserted as proof of his future action. In any event, the smoke did not confuse four of the five councilors, and Bassett will become the fifth member of the court.Also in Concord, the Senate refused to concur with a number of amendments to bills previously passed by it and amended by the House, and it further refused to set up committees of conference to work out the differences, effectively killing the bills in either the form passed by it or the House.Among the bills killed was the one aimed at changing the University System of New Hampshire structure, a matter that should be within the jurisdiction of the USNH board of trustees. This ended a drama that should have been avoided in its entirety.Gene Savage must be smiling.Brad Cook, a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green, heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He also serves as secretary of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire.