Features

Celebrating the Legacy of Barbara Griffin Cole '78 at Princeton Day School
Celebrating the Legacy of Barbara Griffin Cole '78 at Princeton Day School

At the end of June, Barbara Griffin Cole '78 will step down from the Princeton Day School Board of Trustees after five pivotal years as Board Chair, and a total of 17 years on the Board of Trustees. Here are some reflections from her fellow trustees on her tremendous leadership and deep integrity.

Paul J. Stellato, Head of School:

"Thinking of my friend Barbie Cole; and trying hard to come to terms with her imminent departure from the board and her unfathomable absence from my side, I've been thinking about a variation on a line uttered some years ago by a Secretary of Defense. It goes something like this: you don't get to fight the battle you want; you get to fight the battle you have. You would do well to ask what this has to do with board leadership, Barbie Cole, and the head of school. I've begun to look at it this way, through these questions: What happens when the person you most need by your side turns out to be the very person standing there? And what happens when the board-head relationship (which school governance mavens assert is among the most important relationships in a school community) turns out to be a warm, deep, enduring friendship? My friend, Barbie Cole, would quickly reply that the happy answers to these questions—and any others our school might ask—rise in our students' ecstatic voices and their strong, sure beating hearts.

In our time together, I've had the pleasure of watching Barbie inspire the best from everyone with whom she has worked. Caring, compassionate, and considerate, she has proved as deft with a Lower Schooler selling calendars as with a prospective trustee in need of just a bit more coaxing. By the close of her tenure, she will have authored a wildly successful capital campaign and written the first few glorious chapters of another; overseen our school's first landscape and campus master plans; built a board of trustees for the ages; ensured our school's financial health during a period of financial peril; championed our school against all rivals and pretenders; celebrated our school through her soaring rhetoric and soft entreaties; and comforted our school in times of loss and grief. She has been a chair for all seasons, an ambassador for all occasions, a sage who has wrapped her great wisdom in the bright cloaks of compassion, service, and commitment.

For Barbie Griffin Cole, these years—all 17 of them as a member of the board—have also been a family affair. She arrived as a bright-eyed Lower Schooler and proud member of the class of 1978; she returned as a young mother with her own Lower Schooler: James '08, who was followed closely by Zeeza '13 and George '17. Her sense of the place grew and matured as did her children, for through their experience she came to understand and appreciate the heart of the school: its children and their teachers. Robust and busy as her family was, Barbie found time and room to welcome Maureen, our girls, and me into its fellowship. We are better for it. To her husband, Chris Cole, I have turned often for guidance and support; he has given me hope, courage, and lots of practical advice. Princeton Day School has no greater ally than Barbie's mother, Barbara Griffin, whose sturdy advocacy and clear-headed counsel have benefitted me and each of my predecessors. Barbie's late father, Jim Griffin, was quick to remind me of the confidence he had in our school and its leader. Each in his or her own way has helped fashion our school's greatness, although all would quickly and surely concede that their most important role has been in support of this finest of community leaders and members, Barbie Cole.

Barbie Cole and I did not know one another well when she agreed to serve as board chair. As our school and our country began to shake off the ill effects of the recession, it was Barbie Cole's clarion-clear voice rising first, urging us all to shake off our doubts and begin to dream and plan for what was next. It was Barbie Cole who took flight and soared and, in doing so, beckoned our school to join her. An invitation from Barbie Cole is too good to pass up. By any measure, our school's last five or so years will rank among the most prosperous and productive in its history. I need not mention that that period coincides with her tenure as board chair.

And what of this head of school and his board chair? Frankly, I've been in a state of denial for some time about Barbie Cole's leaving my side. If it's all the same to you, I'd prefer not to think about it, for I know that time will come when I must. Though she and I will no longer meet every other Friday morning from 9:00 to 10:00 in my office; though I will no longer call her once, twice, or 12 times each week; and while the work of the board and its committees will no longer be informed by her intuition, discipline, and care, I remain very hopeful. The school Barbie Cole shaped shares much in common with all the things she loves: her family, her home and gardens, her friendships. It is sturdy and durable. It is firmly rooted in the right things. It knows no limits. From Barbie Cole, I have learned the lessons of a lifetime, and perhaps the only way for me to repay the great debt I owe her is to ensure that those lessons—of expectation, excellence, empathy, enthusiasm—remain lively and present in every endeavor I consider, every decision I make, and every relationship into which I enter. I make that promise here and now.

An old management adage goes something like this: Always leave the place better than you found it. Having gotten over that hurdle

pretty easily, Barbie Cole will be remembered for something more: seeing in our school and all of us our best selves, even when we could not; and urging us to realize the many, many things of which she knew we were capable. As fully as anyone I have known or with whom I have worked, Barbie Cole has also understood this simple truth: to be among, to work among, to be in service to school children is the greatest privilege of them all."

Marc C. Brahaney, Trustee:

"I have had the distinct and tremendous pleasure of working with Barbie on a wide range of PDS campus projects. I am always impressed with her unfailing ability to take in the big picture, think through issues strategically, and then identify and drill into the details that matter. At every level, she zeroes in on and asks the critical questions. The breadth of her talents combined with her dedication to PDS mean that Barbie's influence on the school is seen and felt everywhere. Generations of children yet to attend PDS will be the beneficiaries of her excellent work. Her leadership of the board and her collaboration with Paul, and with all of us, have been inspired and inspiring. It is indeed my good fortune to count Barbie as a colleague and a dear friend."

Rebecca W. Bushnell '70, Rising Chair of the Board of Trustees:

"As an alumna, a parent, a volunteer, and a leader, Barbie Cole exemplifies the very best of the PDS community. We value talent, common sense, compassion, a strong work ethic, and a unwavering commitment to service, and she has it all. Through the countless hours she has spent serving the school and her wise leadership, she has been key both to making PDS the vibrant school that it is today, and to steering the path toward an even more stellar future."

Thomas B. Harvey, Vice Chair:

"The anchor to everything is Barbie's deep commitment to Princeton Day School. She has seen all aspects of the school—as a student, as a parent, as a trustee—so what she brings is a true familiarity. Barbie is erudite and incredibly inquisitive and, as such, has a great depth of knowledge about many things. She brings an open-mindedness to everything, and is constantly looking for ways to do things better. Barbie genuinely wants to know what people think, including her fellow trustees. She has had an incredible impact on this school."

Eleanor V. Horne, Trustee:

"Over the years, I have worked with some truly outstanding trustees at PDS and elsewhere. Barbie Cole is among the very best, and, in fact, models many attributes of exceptional trustees and board chairs. She works tirelessly on behalf of PDS because she loves the school and wants to preserve its best features for future generations of students, while simultaneously seeking ways to make it even better and more responsive to the changing needs and expectations of students and parents. She leads by example; has forged a strong bond with the school's leadership; and has strengthened the sense of shared community among trustees, parents, alumni, faculty and staff."

Edward E. Matthews, Trustee Emeritus:

"I worked closely with Barbie in her leadership of the last capital campaign that ended in 2008. Barbie was the consummate leader, making the tough decisions at the right time and encouraging all of us when progress seemed slow at times. Her intelligence and naturally cheerful disposition were an inspiration to us all."

Andrew M. Okun, Trustee Emeritus:

"I have come to know Barbie through working on the board together for 16 years and I cherish the strong friendship we have developed over this time. Barbie has an obvious superior intellect, but what is most remarkable about her is how kind, trustworthy, grounded, and dedicated she is. Barbie is extremely family-oriented and it shows not only in the strong bonds she has with her extended family, but also in the three wonderful children Barbie and Chris have raised. The greatest pleasure of being Barbie's friend is to enjoy one of her home-cooked meals (she is an outstanding cook!) in her home with her family. The Cole and Griffin families are a PDS treasure, and Barbie exemplifies everything that is wonderful about these remarkable families.

Barbie brings all of her positive energy, intelligence, and passion to the board and allows an openness and clarity of thought that serves the school so very well. She is optimistic yet thoroughly balanced as a person and leader, and those qualities give great strength to the board. PDS would not be where it is today without the energies and talents that Barbie has given to the school. We all owe her a deep debt of gratitude."

Lisa R. Stockman, Secretary/Parliamentarian:

"Barbie's world-class gardens serve as a fitting metaphor for her life. They are extensive, complex, teeming with unusual and rare varieties, meticulously planned and maintained, all while conveying a relaxed exuberance. Their geometry is perfection, laid out with a mathematician's precision. Their balance and harmony of colors, textures, and plant materials are a feast for the eyes. The love and joy so evident in Barbie's gardens are evident in all she does, especially at PDS. She has enriched PDS immeasurably, as she has enriched the lives of those around her. She is a remarkable person and I treasure my association with her."

John D. Wallace '48, Trustee Emeritus:

"I've known Barbie for her entire life, as my parents were best friends with her grandparents, and I was close with her father. In fact, our families have been connected through the years in many ways. But I was truly able to reconnect with Barbie when we served together on the board. I learned that Barbie is incredibly inclusive, and adept at reaching out to people with expertise in many different fields. She has a real love for PDS that comes through in her engagement with everyone at the school, including teachers and staff, and in the incredible amount of time she devotes to the school. I don't think she has ever missed so much as a meeting at PDS. Barbie is compassionate about people and mindful of their time and commitment—she is very respectful to everyone, including her fellow trustees. I've seen her commitment to the school grow over the course of her years on the board and, particularly, through her strong partnership with Paul Stellato to guide our school. She has been a remarkable board chair and is a great friend."

John C. Wellemeyer '52, Trustee:

"Barbie Cole has guided the board in the transition of the upcoming capital campaign from a focus on athletics and financial aid to a more broadly-based one to include the school's new STEAM program and the requisite renovation of classroom facilities. She and Paul Stellato have achieved this with the enthusiastic, full support of the board.

As chairman of the investment committee responsible for the school's endowment, I have enjoyed working with Barbie. She is a quiet leader who encourages the Board's committee chairs to achieve their goals. She has attended all of the investment committee meetings, and has asked very important questions.

After 17 years on the PDS Board of Trustees, she has more than earned her 'retirement.' Given all that the board has been dealing with over the past several years, her role as Chair has been what most people would consider a full-time job. I am hopeful that she will continue to be very actively involved in the upcoming capital campaign."

C. Treby McLaughlin Williams '80, Former Chair of the Board of Trustees:

"Barbie leads ambitiously, with clear vision and purpose. She possesses intimate understanding of the soul of the school and a deep belief in PDS' aspirations. Her partnership with Paul Stellato, leadership of the board for the last five years, and her extraordinary contributions as a board member for 17 years leave a profound legacy that will impact generations of PDS students. She has been magnificent to and for PDS!"