Patricia Colgan, an assistant and close advisor to three presidents over a 28-year career at Union, passed away Feb. 5, 2023 at her home in Columbia, S.C. She was 85.
At once warm and assertive, Pat efficiently navigated the vagaries of academe and the often competing demands of its constituents. Her humor and gentle sarcasm made her a welcome presence at innumerable meetings. Colleagues also recall her as a generous and personable mentor.
She joined the College in 1977 as personal secretary to Thomas Bonner, a post she continued during the tenure of John Morris from 1979 to 1990. She was named assistant to the president by Roger Hull in 1991.
She also served as director of institutional studies during the Hull administration. She was named special assistant to library collections in 2005. She retired a year later as assistant to the president and director of institutional studies emerita.
Despite never earning a college degree, she worked closely with the leadership at three colleges. Before joining Union, she worked for James Phinney Baxter III, president of Williams College. She also worked at Yale University with George Evelyn Hutchinson, an eminent professor of zoology who was known as “the father of modern ecology.” She worked for John Metz at Custom Management, a firm that would become the largest privately-owned food services company in the country.
Those who worked in the President’s Office and Institutional Studies recalled her loyalty and the interest she took in their lives away from work. Long before the days of working remote, she helped one employee juggle a schedule that included classes at Union and motherhood. That employee would go on to graduate summa cum laude. When another employee and his wife lost their apartment in a fire, she organized a collection to replace their household goods.
“I first met Pat during Union’s presidential search in 1990; I instantly liked her,” recalled Hull. “When I became president, I asked Pat to be my assistant, with one caveat: I wanted her always to tell me what I needed to hear, not what she thought I wanted to hear.
“During our 15 years of working together, Pat never disappointed me and always spoke ‘truth to power.’
“I miss Pat, but I take solace in knowing she made a major difference in the lives of her family and mine and in the life of Union College,” Hull said.
Hull said the two remained close friends after they both retired, and stayed in touch through monthly phone calls after she moved to be with her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren in South Carolina.
Born and raised in New York City, she lived in New Haven, Conn.; Williamsport, Pa.; and Wilkes-Barre, Pa., before coming to Schenectady.
She loved reading, her Yankees, Giants and Rangers, playing bridge and above all, spending time with her grandchildren. She enjoyed traveling with her family, most recently to Scotland and the mountains of North Carolina.
Survivors include her son, Eric Tappa; daughter-in-law, Kim; and grandchildren, Lucas and Naia. She was predeceased by her brother, Charles (Charlie).
Memorial contributions may be made to the Patricia Colgan Memorial Endowed Book Fund in care of College Relations, Union College, 807 Union Street, Schenectady, N.Y. 12308.
Arrangements are pending.