‘Dean Jeanne’ kept arts and sciences running as assistant to dean

Jeanne Martin, known for her ability to deal effectively with all 31 Pitt arts and sciences departments as top assistant to several deans, died on July 29, 2019, just a few months before her 100th birthday.

In a note to Martin written by then-Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) Dean Jerome Rosenberg during his tenure (1970-1986), he told her: “When people in other divisions speak wistfully of the smoothness with which things run in 1001 (Cathedral of Learning), they are paying tribute to you. I don’t need their judgment, however, because I know full well how valuable a person you are. I can’t imagine anybody who would have your flair for organizing a very complex office operation, solving the most delicate interpersonal problems among a large staff, anticipating and solving all problems affecting me personally and professionally, and maintaining a gentle disposition through all of this.”

“She was a wonderful colleague,” Rosenberg said earlier this month. “She always collected background information for issues I had to deal with. In fact, she often resolved issues before I had to deal with them. All of our constituencies trusted her. She was a pleasant colleague whom everyone liked.”

Martin attended Pitt as a business administration major, with additional studies at Duff’s Business College and the Grace Martin’s School of Business. Apart from one year working in the Department of Speech and Theatre Arts, Martin’s 26 years at Pitt (1962-1988) were spent in the office of the dean in what would become the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. She started as secretary and retired in the late 1980s as assistant to the dean.

Peter F.M. Koehler, professor emeritus in physics and astronomy and Rosenberg’s successor as dean, took office in 1986 and found Martin poised to retire. “But I asked her to help me get started, and she graciously agreed to do that,” Koehler says. “It was one of the best decisions I ever made, because she knew that place inside and out.”

Martin assisted Koehler for an additional two years, giving him “a careful briefing” prior to his initial meeting with each school department, he recalls: “She was very pleasant, always polite. She was certainly the senior staff member and had tremendous connection with administrative assistants in the various departments.

“She was the consummate professional,” he adds.

W. Richard Howe, retired associate dean for administration and planning, and Linda Huchber, data analyst in the Dietrich School’s dean’s office, compiled a remembrance that notes: “Many of the FAS department chairs and administrative staff affectionately referred to Jeanne as ‘Dean Jeanne.’ She was recognized as the door keeper for the dean and knew when to open it and when to keep it closed. When ‘Dean Jeanne’ said that she would take care of a problem, the departmental chairs and staff had full confidence that they had been heard and that their concerns would be quickly and effectively addressed.”

The memorial letter adds: “Among her many formal and assumed responsibilities was her intense devotion to looking after the many FAS staff members. She felt a personal connection to all who worked within the extended Arts & Sciences umbrella. She was always ready to provide a departmental chair with just the right candidates to interview for jobs within her broad sphere of influence. She was a one-person human resources coordinator who evaluated individual performances and identified those staff members who were ready for promotions to more demanding and rewarding positions.”

Nancy Kasper, department coordinator manager in the social science division of the Dietrich School, remembers helping to organize a retirement dinner for Martin in the William Pitt Union ballroom with nearly 300 in attendance, “which was very hard keeping secret from her since everyone that ever came into the dean’s office always sat and spoke to Jeanne before their meeting with the dean…. Everyone had some sort of story they wanted to tell about their interactions with Jeanne, or they just wanted to express their gratitude for her help throughout the many years.

“About halfway through the reception, the dean made an announcement that, on behalf of everyone present and those that couldn’t attend, he wanted to thank Mrs. Martin — he very rarely called her by her first name — for all of her help over the past few years and he presented her with an envelope which contained a collective contribution so that she could take that trip to Alaska she’d been talking about. …  Jeanne thanked everyone, said she’d miss us, and wouldn’t have traded her time at the University for anything — but now she was going to take that trip.”

In retirement, Martin did indeed travel extensively, but also continued to serve the school through its temporary employment pool. As Howe noted, “Jeanne was the glue that held the Arts and Sciences together. She was an organizer extraordinaire, a marvelous communicator, possessor of an infectious sense of humor and good will and a beloved friend to all who came in contact with this wonderful lady.”

— Marty Levine