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In Memoriam

Spelman Celebrates the Legacy of Life Trustee Laura Rockefeller Chasin

November 2015

Spelman Celebrates the Life and Legacy of Laura Rockefeller Chasin

A Life Well Lived (1936 - 2015)

The Board of Trustees of Spelman College and President Mary Schmidt Campbell mourn the passing of Laura Rockefeller Chasin, a long-time friend and life trustee of the College. Chasin was the great-granddaughter of Spelman’s founding philanthropic partners, John D. and Laura Spelman Rockefeller.

Like her mother before her, Chasin served on Spelman's board of trustees. Following her exemplary tenure (1965-1990), Chasin was designated a life trustee of Spelman College, a distinction extended only to a small group of dedicated board volunteers. Throughout her lifetime she remained engaged with the College, returning for Founders Day celebrations and also contributing annual gifts to provide much-needed scholarship support for deserving Spelman students.  During the 2009 History and Traditions Convocation, "The Compass for Change," Chasin also performed in a portion of the program called, "The Change."

A Skilled Facilitator of Difficult Dialogues

Spelman Life Trustee Laura Rockefeller ChasinChasin was a founder of the Public Conversations Project, a Watertown, Massachusetts non-profit organization established in 1989 to foster constructive conversation about issues involving clashing values, world views, and identities, such as abortion, sexual orientation, immigration, gun safety and religious tolerance.

A graduate of Bryn Mawr College, with masters degrees in government from Harvard and social work from Simmons College, Chasin had an extensive background in political science, social work, psychodrama, and family systems therapy. Through her work with Public Conversations, Chasin helped groups reduce stereotyping and polarization while deepening trust and collaboration and strengthening communities. Chasin also did extensive post-graduate training in marital and family therapy in conjunction with a private psychotherapy practice. 

Chasin served on numerous boards including the James Jackson Putnam Children's Center of Roxbury, the Conflict Management Group, the Faith and Politics Institute, the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Children's Defense Fund headed by Spelman alumna Marian Wright Edelman, C'60.

A Strong Supporter and Friend of the College

LauraRockefellerChasinThe following are excerpts from a response given by Chasin on behalf of herself, Gerald Davenport, Peggy Rockefeller Dulany, Elizabeth McCormack and Mary French Rockefeller on the occasion of a dinner in honor of their service as trustees of Spelman College (April 10, 1991):

"My real, as opposed to my nominal, Spelman connection began in a dormitory lounge, not in a boardroom .... My earliest bonds were not with my colleagues on a board, but with the students and faculty I had occasion to talk with on my own."

"It was clear that I was the first trustee with whom the students had ever had a conversation and I was not at all what they had expected. It was clear that they were exactly as I had dreamed they would be – self-confident, smart, outspoken, feisty, candid, and passionate about their learning, the College and the world around them."

"During that conversation with those particular students, my inner connection with Spelman was born. I had long since figured out that they and their fellow students were being educated with only a portion of the resources that students at the colleges with which I was familiar had at their disposal." 

Chasin's Words Resonate as Loudly Today as They Did Twenty-Five Years Ago

"Right now, this very moment, is one of Spelman’s finest and most dramatic hours. And yet ...Spelman reaches this moment of triumph in her institutional history at a time when the society around her is experiencing one of the most vulnerable moments in its history." 

"It is unclear to me whether Spelman will be able to sustain the promise of this hour, unless we, who already are part of the Spelman family, use what we have and do what we can do, and do it with enthusiasm, to see that her momentum is sustained."

"... If I cry tomorrow, as I usually do when we sing the Spelman Hymn, it is because this is the only college alma mater that truly touches my heart."

A Fearless Change Agent  Who "Paddled Her Own Canoe"

Laura Rockefeller Chasin

In a speech Chasin gave at Spelman in 1978, she shared a story about her great grandmother, Laura Spelman who delivered an oration at her high school graduation titled, "I Can Paddle my Own Canoe." Chasin proudly admitted that she "really liked that spirit" and  wrote: 

"I would like each of you now to go into your mind and develop an image of Laura Spelman at age 18 paddling her own canoe. Now follow that canoe from 1855 until 1882 when it encounters Miss Packard and Miss Giles who were themselves transported by somewhat similar spirits of self-assurance, determination, and plain, old-fashioned gumption. Now, let the image of these ladies paddling their 19th century canoes with determined but dignified strokes fade from you mind ...."

Chasin continues the analogy to introduce the then incoming president, Donald M. Stewart, Ph.D., and his wife Isabella.  However, the words she ascribed to the Stewarts can easily and fittingly be used to describe her as well:

"... A person whose vision has been sharpened by a firm grasp of the workings of ships, seas, and storms, and whose energy has been focused by a passionate love of delivering the goods to worthwhile ports of call ...."

"... She can be found at any one of several critical locations within the workings of the ship. You know that her competence and grace make things easier, smoother and warmer wherever you happen to find her ...."

The Spelman community joins with Laura Rockefeller Chasin's many Spelman friends in sending condolences to her surviving family, including her husband Richard Chasin, children, grandchildren and siblings.

We are thankful that "she paddled her own canoe" to Spelman's shores and served as an anchor of strength and support to the College.