Persuasion for Public Good:
Continuing President Wood’s Legacy
|Margaret "Peggy" Wood|
These days the art of persuasion comes naturally to Margaret “Peggy” Wood, widow of former University of Massachusetts president Robert C. Wood. And that’s no accident—her spouse of fifty-three years was an exemplar of the most effective ways to convince people to change their thinking.
Peggy recalls her husband’s attempt one summer evening in 1975 to convince Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Senator Ted Kennedy to build the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum on Columbia Point—a decision, of course, that had huge implications for UMass Boston’s intellectual life. At the time, the library’s trustees had a choice to make between building the facility on the UMass Boston campus, and another plan that called for the library to be located in Cambridge and the museum in Charlestown.
Bob Wood believed he knew how to persuade the trustees to choose the university. He took the former first lady and the senator on a twilight drive for a fresh look at the potential sites: first through congested Cambridge and Charlestown, then to expansive Columbia Point, which that night was bathed in a serene dusky glow. “Mrs. Onassis declared then and there that the library and museum should remain unified and be located on Columbia Point, facing the sea,” Peggy remembers.
Helping to land the JFK Library and Museum was only one of Robert Wood’s accomplishments as a public servant. Before Wood assumed the university presidency in 1970, President Lyndon Johnson tapped him to chair the Presidential Task Force on Urban Problems, which later recommended establishing a cabinet-level department of housing and urban development. When HUD was created in 1965, Wood was named its undersecretary. He would play a lead role in drafting and implementing landmark HUD legislation, including the Model Cities Program and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
As president of the University of Massachusetts, Wood led efforts to create a statewide university system. During his tenure, the university opened its medical school in Worcester and UMass Boston moved from its downtown location to the Dorchester campus it now occupies. To broaden the university’s ties to the state’s government and business centers, Wood also moved the President’s Office from Amherst to Boston.
When Wood stepped down from the university presidency in 1977, he accepted an assignment teaching political science at the McCormack Institute. Later, using a charitable remainder trust, he and Peggy established the Robert C. Wood Visiting Professorship, a fund that brings distinguished public figures to campus to lead students and faculty in discussion of public policy and political life. The Woods were inspired by former institute director Robert Woodbury, a dynamic leader who sought to strengthen the McCormack enterprise by linking it to other leading institutions of policy studies.
“The goal of the fund was to help connect the McCormack Institute’s research and programs in public policy into a larger intellectual infrastructure,” Peggy says. She and her husband helped attract dozens of donors to the fund, and over the years the professorship has recruited an array of policy experts who have enriched the university’s intellectual and educational resources.
Robert Turner, former deputy editor of the Boston Globe editorial pages and now senior research fellow at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies—a descendant of the McCormack Institute—heads the committee that selects the Wood Professorship awardee each year. “Peggy's continued participation makes the committee work a delight,” he says, “and inspires us to select recipients who reflect Bob Wood's passion for values such as equal opportunity and a commitment to young people.”
Says Peggy of her husband: “Bob always saw both of the fields he worked in—housing and public higher education—as places with enormous potential to open up opportunity for people who were financially, culturally, and socially disadvantaged. He saw UMass Boston as a place that made first-class education available to all. We believe the Wood Professorship contributes to that excellence.”
|President Robert C. Wood|
A member of the Wood Professorship selection committee herself, Peggy has been integrally involved with the initiative, which for her and many others provides a vibrant connection to her late husband. The charitable remainder trust the Woods used to create the fund currently provides a monthly payout to a member of the Wood family. When that person passes, the principal will be added to the Wood Professorship fund.
Peggy says she now has the best of both worlds—living proof of the impact of a charitable gift through the professorship, and assurance that the planned gift she and her husband made to UMass Boston will build on success. “I hope that my example will persuade others to establish similar funds,” she says. “The Wood endowment has been a treasure in our family and will extend educational opportunity for generations.”