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Marjorie Alma Wood Brittingham never intended to become an alumni director—“Who ever would?” she asks. After earning her English degree in 1960 (cum laude and with Phi Beta Kappa honors), she began a decade of domesticity with husband and classmate Smith Rufus Brittingham III that included two young sons, several moves, and “packing and unpacking, painting rooms, and making curtains.”

They returned to Oberlin in 1969 for what they expected would be a year-and-a-half stay as Smith completed his master’s of teaching degree. (He earned it in 1971.) Brittingham took a job on campus as a geology research assistant from 1969 to 1974, working with a National Science Foundation grant to compile a catalog of marine protozoa. In 1976, she joined the alumni office and soon became its acting director. She took the helm officially a year later.

“We never realized what a fine politician we were hiring,” says Fred Cohen ’57, a leader in the alumni ranks at the time. “She steered through the choppy political waters brought by changing administrations and dealt with activist alums with agendas. Midge always had many good ideas and was talented enough to make them seem like ours.”

Of all of Brittingham’s qualities—her encyclopedic knowledge of alumni, her knack for making the perfect out-of-country tour plans, her contagious love of sports, and a smile that makes one feel instantly at ease—it is her diplomacy that most distinguishes her.

“Of all of the nonprofit boards I’ve served on, I’ve never seen anyone as skilled at working so effectively with all stripes and sizes of volunteers—young, old, new, or experienced,” says Diane Kenty ’77, president of the Alumni Association from 1999 to 2001. “Midge manages to impart her values subtly, and though she may deftly shape the course of action, she still leaves leadership and decision-making in the hands of alums.”

Brittingham describes it more bluntly: “I guess I’ve done a good job of not pissing anyone off.”

It’s more complicated than that, of course. She works so hard to build consensus because she truly values each graduate’s individual viewpoint. “I stay in the background and help the
volunteers make their own decisions. They need to remain em-powered. I trust them enough—they’re smart people—that even if they’re not doing what I would have done, it’s going to work out.”

She had been preparing to step down this coming September after spending the summer months showing the new guy the ropes. “I’m tired,” she says sincerely. “We work so many weekends; Fridays until midnight and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to midnight sometimes. Our alumni are volunteers. They can’t meet during the work week, so I give up about 10 weekends a year. It’s just time to go.”


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