Every school day morning, Barry drove to Brunswick High School. I did too.”

I have known and worked with Barry Mills from the start of his presidency at Bowdoin. I met him even before then when he was the chair of the Presidential Search Committee, and I attended one of the meetings with small groups of faculty he arranged as part of the search process. Over these years, there are many stories I and others could tell about working with Barry, but I will focus on one less likely to be relayed: Barry as a father.

When Barry became the president of Bowdoin, his family moved with him to Brunswick. Karen and Barry decided not to live in the official president’s residence on Federal Street. Instead they filled the official residence with family photographs and used it for the hundreds of large and small events associated with his presidency. To protect their three sons (“the boys”) from constant visitors and the pressure on them to adjust to formal events by being quiet and invisible, the in-the-flesh family lived in the house next door to the one on Federal Street.

I have attended many events at the official residence. Framed images of the [Mills] boys are everywhere, on end tables, bookshelves, and in the entryway beside the stairway in a seeming hodgepodge of memorable moments of time during their early childhood and adolescence. The snapshots and portraits simultaneously picture Barry’s family’s stories and make “family” a key metaphor of Barry’s vision for Bowdoin.

When he accepted the offer to become Bowdoin’s president, Barry promised [his] boys that he would take them to school every day. I suppose this promise was intended to help soften the blow of moving from Manhattan (population 1.6 million) to Brunswick (population 21,000). Barry’s workday at Bowdoin began after he took the boys to school. Barry’s older sons Will and Henry are just about the same age as my two children. Their paths crossed often. And so did Barry’s and mine. Every school day morning, Barry drove to Brunswick High School. I did too.

At the turnoff to BHS there is a quarter-mile promenade to a circle at the front entrance of the building. Usually there was a traffic jam of last-minute before-the-bell parent-driven cars slowly progressing from the entrance to the circle. Barry and I took to waving at each other. As any parent knows, mornings are carefully orchestrated affairs and exquisitely timed. Over time, I learned how to read the road. I could tell when Barry or I was running late by where our cars were when we waved. The wave gave me something to look forward to during the get-up-and-get-out-the-door work of parenting. The wave also signaled to me Barry’s devotion to his sons and over time it became symbolic of his stalwart commitment to doing what he promised for the Bowdoin family. 

—Susan Bell
A. Myrick Freeman Professor of Social Sciences