I'm Mark Huddleston, president of the University of New Hampshire, and I have the good fortune to be among the many here—and the many and around the state and around the nation—who Gene inspired, encouraged, and counseled throughout his remarkable life.
Of course, our hearts go out especially to Gene's family today. We share your sorrow. But we also share a sense of joy and gratitude as we remember Gene's devotion to you and to the entire UNH family.
As we gather today, one thing that stands out about Gene is the extraordinary range of people who remember him so fondly, and who stayed in touch with him even decades after they met: Friends and neighbors from his hometown of North Stratford, students he mentored when he was a high school guidance counselor in the 1960s. Students he admitted to UNH, who, despite spotty academic records, Gene saw as young men and women of promise. And, of course, our distinguished guests and colleagues who are with us today—many of whom probably had those spotty academic records.
Gene's life reflected a deep, personal commitment to improving the lives of everyone, especially the young people of New Hampshire.
His career was a true vocation, a calling, one that began as a teacher, coach, and guidance counselor at schools in Pittsfield, Somersworth, and Wolfeboro, NH. And today, I think we can finally forgive him for briefly taking his talents across the Connecticut River to Brandon, Vt.
Thankfully, Gene came back to New Hampshire and to UNH in 1967, when he became Director of Admissions. He later served as Dean of Admissions, Vice President for University Relations, and as Vice Chancellor and consultant to the Chancellor for the University System of New Hampshire. After leaving the University System, he served as Senior Government Relations advisor for the law firm of Rath, Young, and Pignatelli in Concord.
Gene also displayed exemplary leadership and loyalty to many organizations, including the University System Board of New Hampshire Board of Trustees, The College Board, the New England Board of Higher Education, and many more that serve the public good.
In 2007, he received the Chancellor's Medallion for service to higher education. Last fall, it was our great privilege to honor Gene with the Pettee Medal, the UNH Alumni Association's most prestigious award. And last week, just before he passed away, Ed Dupont and I were able to present Gene with the Granite State Award, which is given to citizens or organizations in the State of New Hampshire whose achievements or extraordinary service have been of particular benefit to the state.
Permit me to share one story that will tell you something about how Gene excelled as a human being and as a friend to me:
A few days after I arrived in New Hampshire as president of UNH in the summer of 2007, Gene showed up in my office and announced that he would be taking me on a driving tour of the state. I didn't really know Gene at the time, aside from having shared a couple of glasses of wine during the interview process. But I didn't argue. He said it with authority—and he was a member of the board that just hired me. It seemed like it was some sort of semi-official, quasi-mandatory orientation program. Gene also said that we'd be taking my car—and that he'd be driving.
So, we drove all the way up one side of New Hampshire, across the top, and back down the other side. It took, as you would imagine, all day, into the evening in fact. We stopped at just about every little town, service station, and diner along the way—not because we needed gas or food, but because Gene needed to introduce me to important friends of UNH (and of course, friends of Gene). During all those many hours, the conversation never stopped. Actually, it was mostly a monologue, but that's OK. I learned more about UNH—and about every president who had sat in T-Hall during Gene's years, and that was a lot of them—than I had before or have since. It was an education—and one that I've never forgotten.
That was Gene. He was an educator, through and through. Like all good educators, no matter who you were or where you were, Gene always made you feel like you were the most important person in the world. He was genuine. His smile was ever present—even when he was cursing on the golf course—sincere and full of good cheer. You felt better for being around him. And you wanted to do your very best for him.
Simply put, Gene Savage was a compassionate and wise soul. People loved him, respected him, were affected by him. Gene was like an Ensteinian heavenly body whose gravitational force was so great that all light bent as it passed by.
Toward the end of our drive, Gene insisted on stopping at Plymouth State, and giving me the full tour of campus, even though it was late on a Sunday evening in the middle of summer when no one was around. It didn't matter that I was the new president of UNH, he really wanted me to see Plymouth, and for me to understand what public higher education meant to him and to New Hampshire's families.
Looking back now, I realize that our drive was more than a tour. It was Gene's way of showing me that public higher education in New Hampshire is a sacred trust, one that is cherished throughout this beautiful state. It is a trust built on relationships, on our core values, and on a shared sense of community that extends from the smallest towns of the North Country to the Seacoast to the State House in Concord.
Our drive that day was also the beginning of a long and dear personal friendship, one that I will always cherish.
Thank you, Gene Savage. And thank you, all.
View a video of a tribute to Gene Savage '58H on the awarding of the Pettee Medal, the Alumni Association's most prestigious award.
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