David Treadwell

David Treadwell

Last week I lost a dear friend and long-time mentor: Dick Moll. He was one of a kind, a creative soul who inspired everyone in his orbit. Dick died as he lived, on his own terms, with courage and grace.

In May, 1968, I had become disenchanted with my job in advertising in New York so I had lunch with James (“Spike”) Stacey Coles, Bowdoin’s former president to seek advice. He noted that Bowdoin had two openings, one in development and one in admissions.

I came up to Brunswick to interview for both positions on the same day. The development interview put me to sleep. Then I met with Dick. Five minutes into the interview, he asked, “Do you play tennis?” I said, “Yes,” and he said, “Screw this. Let’s go play tennis.”

I borrowed tennis clothes, and we played a set. Then I took a shower and Dick drove me back to the Portland airport just in the nick of time. I had to run out onto the tarmac to board the small plane.

Observing Dick at work was like watching a maestro conduct an orchestra. He was always enthusiastic, always upbeat, always creative, always thinking ahead. He got people at Bowdoin talking about admissions, and he got people in the admissions world talking about Bowdoin.

He admired students — or anyone — who demonstrated “pizzazz,” his favorite word. He shunned the stuffy, the boring, the predictable. He worked hard to increase the College’s racial, geographic and economic diversity. He enthusiastically endorsed Bowdoin’s decision to admit women and then oversaw the admission of the first females.

Perhaps most significantly, Dick led the effort to make SAT’s optional at Bowdoin. That one move, more than any other, helped put Bowdoin on the national map. Ironically, Bowdoin became much more selective after the requirement was dropped as applications boomed.

Dick Moll was a great boss because he let you do your thing. He was a fine mentor because he demonstrated the value of taking risks. I attended some national admissions conferences with Dick, and he was obviously well known, although the old school types groaned at his antics. (When Bowdoin first admitted women, Dick hired high school cheerleaders to parade around a College Fair wearing white blouses and black skirts and passing out flyers, which read, “Bowdoin Now Accepts Women!”)

Dick always had my back. I enjoyed my first year in admissions, but it was hard to provide for a family of four on a salary of $9,200. At the end of the first year, I got a letter announcing that I had been promoted to Associate Director of Admissions and that I would get a $300 raise. I remember saying to my colleague, who got essentially the same letter, “I think we got thrown a titular bone.”

I went in to Dick’s office and said that while I loved what I was doing, I needed a higher salary or I would have to look elsewhere. Dick asked what I had been making in New York and I told him $12,000. He said, “Let me see what I can do.” The next day, he asked me to come into his office, and he said, “Your salary is now $12,000.” (My colleague — and the Director of Financial Aid — got similar big raises, and they thanked me for shaking the tree.)

Dick and I favored public high school applicants because we had both attended public schools. (The other Associate Director favored private school applicants.) I had a hunch that students from public schools outperformed students from private schools in the classroom at Bowdoin. I did some research, and my hunch proved right. I told Dick that I wanted to write a piece on the issue for the Bowdoin alumni magazine, and he said, “Great!” The piece ran on the cover of the magazine, with a clever illustration of an admissions dean holding up a scale. My first “hit” in the world of publishing gave me the confidence to pursue a career in writing.

I left Bowdoin in 1971 to become Dean of Admissions at Ohio Wesleyan, and I shamelessly “borrowed” some of Dick’s creative techniques. For example, he started acceptance letters with the phrase, “You’re in!” and wrote a personalized P.S. on every letter. I did the same.

Dick and I kept in touch over the years, and we both found our way back to Brunswick. We always had meaningful exchanges because we genuinely wanted to know how the other was doing. He told me about his success as a fine national age-group swimmer and medal winner at the International Gay Games. I told him about my marathon training. We shared thoughts on writing and politics and Bowdoin. He liked this column and once said to me, “I’m so glad you’re doing that column; you’re such a good writer.” High praise from a guy who’d published several best selling books.

Thanks to my friendship with Dick, I got to know Wallace Pinfold, his husband. Many readers of this column know Wallace as a prince of a guy with a fine mind, a sharp wit, a big heart and a deep commitment to the town of Brunswick. I’ve seldom witnessed a stronger bond than the one between Dick and Wallace.

As we get along in years, we do well to remember the people who shaped us and brought out our best. I was fortunate to have had several guiding lights, and Dick Moll topped the list. I will miss him.

David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary or suggestions for future “Just a Little Old” columns at [email protected]


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