Saying Farewell to Mary Merrill

August 5, 2019

This past month, Belmont Day School bid farewell to one of our longest-serving employees as Mary Merrill, director of development, left for an exciting opportunity closer to home and family. Across more than two decades, Mary was an integral member of the administrative team, leading creative campaigns that helped advance BDS to wonderful present we experience today, and the bright future we see ahead.

The following remarks were written by Mary’s longtime Belmont Day colleague, Dolly Ryan, director of technology, and were delivered by Dolly during a ceremony in May:

A Tribute to Mary Merrill

After 22 years of dedication, hard work, annual funds, pioneering initiatives, lots of construction, and numerous capital campaigns, it’s my honor to be the one to speak in praise of Mary Merrill tonight.

I remember the day Mary came for her interview. This bright, energetic, young woman with lots of enthusiasm and ideas. Sarah Levine was the head of school at that time, and we were down to the last two finalists for the development position. Mary was my first choice, but Sarah was hesitant. The conversation went something like this:

Sarah: I’m not sure. She is so young and doesn’t have as much experience?

Me: But she’s smart and has a lot of great ideas. We need something different then what we’ve had in the past.

Sarah: I think she’s too young.

Me: I think because she is young she will be able to connect better with alums. 

Sarah: I’m not sure she has enough board experience.

Me: Neither did the last two we had but Mary has passion, and we need stability in that office after multiple turnovers. She will provide that because she is young and eager to learn. I say give her a chance to prove herself.

Sarah then turns to the business manager and says, “What do you think?” Ellen pauses and with a straight face blurts out, “Do you think her eyes are really that blue? I don’t know, she has to be wearing special contacts or something!”

….we laughed and then continued to discuss the pros and cons before I voiced my final words:

Me: “I’m going with my gut feeling here, because I believe she is the right person for the job … and I don’t think those are contacts.” Long story short, Mary didn’t disappoint. She was exactly what the school needed.

Organized, strategic, personable, and energetic Mary led this school through a series of big changes. A few weeks ago we had yet another first at BDS with the Bell & Laurel event that celebrated supporters who have given for ten consecutive years. It was at that moment when both our names were called that I realized it was no mistake that both Mary and I were celebrating 22 years of giving together. It was proof that Mary hit the ground running in her very first year. One of her goals was to educate the faculty and staff on the importance of giving and how 100% faculty and staff participation in fundraising efforts was a testament to the work being done in the classroom, the belief in the home/school partnership, and the feeling of community it brings.

She went on to work with the business manager, board members, and heads of school to make sure faculty meeting time was set aside to educate faculty on a new endowment, an upcoming capital campaign and, more importantly, what it took as a community to keep the school financially sound. This helped to create a level of understanding and respect between administrator and faculty roles that wasn’t there before. Mary was the one who set the foundation for the level of faculty and staff participation that we experience today.

Mary is a leader in every sense of the word. When she came here in 1997 the school had three small endowments. Today, the school receives funding from 15 different endowments that support ongoing initiatives in reading, science, technology, sustainability, learning support, innovation, collaboration, and leadership. Her dedication to the success of major capital campaigns will have positive impacts on many generations to come. Physical plant and programmatic expansions include the addition of grades 7 and 8 and a new middle school wing. Most recently, the raising of the Barn in support of STEAM and athletic initiatives. Her final effort will leave us with a newly renovated Erskine Library opening in the fall of 2019.

Her contributions as an administrative team member are always reflective, thought provoking, focused, and on target. Former Belmont Day head of school, Lenesa Leana, writes:

“Consistently optimistic, creative, organized, and focused, Mary Merrill is willing to tackle any project and see it through from start to finish. She knows when to gently move a group forward and when to step back, when to add a recommendation and when to listen. If she is on your team, you can be sure you will come out ahead. She is the bright Gerber daisy in the bouquet!”

Mary is a cultivator, a connector, and a humanitarian. As a cultivator she worked tirelessly to build relationships with families and alums, and she was very successful in increasing the school’s visibility and excellent reputation. Auctions were transformed into meaningful events with community in mind and a financial goal that was always met and on many occasions exceeded expectations.

As a connector, she is recognized by her independent school peers as a leader in her field, often times representing and speaking on behalf of the work being done at Belmont Day at conferences and workshops.

In March, she was joined by Koreen McQuilton, our director of communications and marketing, and our former BDS collegaue, Tobey Fossey, to present “True Grit: Modeling Resilience in Your Capital Campaign” at the CASE District 1 Conference. Tobey wrote about mary the following:

“Anyone who meets Mary notices immediately her genuineness and optimism. However, after working side-by-side with her, I soon noticed how she artfully used her deep diplomacy skills in her work. I saw how her understanding and knowledge of the fundraising industry was expertly deployed. In short, I am grateful to what Mary was able to do for Belmont Day School and also grateful for the mentoring and guidance that she provided to me during our time together. She is one of the most innovative problem solvers I have ever had the pleasure to work with. Best wishes to Mary as she heads off for a new adventure!”

Mary connects new families with opportunities to volunteer and meet other community members through her work as the liaison for the Parents’ Association. The work of the Parents’ Association and Alumni Association really grew under Mary’s leadership through her ability to communicate effectively, and with time to spare to insure every carefully outlined detail is tended to before every event. Whenever I see Mary arranging flowers for an event, I always think of her mother, Mary Jane, who also loved flowers and spent years in education as well. Both parents, if they were here today, would be so proud of the legacy of excellent work you have done here.

As a humanitarian she always was on the forefront, whether she was organizing the candy for troops drive, making meals for a sick colleague, or welcoming new faculty. I am reminded of how Mary’s strength of character and calm presence really shined during some of the school’s most difficult times, specifically when we learned of the passing of our colleagues, Lenny Corso and Carol Cirillo. We had a lot to navigate as an administrative team, and as a community through those times, and Mary’s work behind the scenes was to be admired.

Mary is a lot of fun, too! And girl, you sure know how to turn a dime into a dollar! Like the time we went to New Orleans for a grant writing workshop. I believe it was your second year at BDS. We were walking to the convention center when we passed a casino. Mary’s big mistake was telling me she had never been to a casino. I looked at my watch and said we’ve got time. Let’s go!

She was like a kid in a candy shop. I started her off on the $.25 slots. She puts her first quarter in, pulls the lever and … ding, ding, ding! Lights are flashing and money starts pouring out. I pull the lever and nothing! I start laughing, lean over and say, “Beginner’s luck, and we leave after you lose your $20.” Three quarters later and … ding, ding, ding! She’s done it again and money is pouring out! I pull the lever and I still got nothing! Long story short she walks out with more money then she walked in with, and I’m out $50 bucks. Beginner’s luck!

Then she met Pete and he became part of the BDS family. It’s a good thing social media wasn’t a thing back when they got married because it involved a 70’s band complete with tie-dyed shirts, platform shoes, leaf blowers, rolls of toilet paper, and a bunch of administrators cutting loose out on the dance floor. Soon to follow was the birth of her son, Mac, and daughter, Hazel, who also became part of the BDS family during vacation and summer camps.

As Mary grew, so to did the development program. Her work supported four heads of school, and she went from a department of one to a department of three. She deepened the relationship and commitment from the school to help support Belmont businesses. Her institutional knowledge is vast and has helped many members navigate the school’s history with poise and ease, whether she’s preparing her team for a big ask, or helping to find a topic and speaker for the Ko Speaker Series she helped establish.

Mary started out as a young woman, bright eyed and full of ideas. She carried that through her 22 years as she grew into her roles as a friend, colleague, department head, board member, volunteer, wife, and mother. Now, a whole new adventure awaits you. We hope that adventure will bring you as much joy, laughter, leadership opportunities, success, honor, and growth as you have experienced here with us. So, grab this opportunity by the handle, pull hard, and let that beginner’s luck continue to spin you in new and exciting directions. From everyone here we wish you health, happiness and success.

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