‘We’ve been saying nice things about Mary for the past 17 years’

When you have the president, the ambassador and the police chief among the speakers at your retirement reception, there should be no doubt that you’re important to the university. Members of the Rice community who gathered in the lounge of Cohen House May 18 assured Associate Vice President for Human Resources Mary Cronin not only that she’s important, but also respected, appreciated and loved.

Mary Cronin

Mary Cronin was the guest of honor during her retirement reception at Cohen House. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)

Cronin, who came to Rice in 2001, will retire June 30.

“When someone leaves Rice, it’s our tradition to say some nice things about them,” Vice President for Administration Kevin Kirby told the crowd. “We’ve been saying nice things about Mary for the past 17 years.”

Noting that Cronin has been his “most trusted colleague,” Kirby said that what makes her special is “that everybody feels that Mary is their most trusted partner.”

Kirby said Cronin is “the embodiment of a great leader — everybody around her is better because Mary is present, especially her talented, high-performing team.”

Cronin and her Human Resources team have achieved a number of successes over the years.

Rice was named one of Houston’s best places to work nine years in a row by the Houston Business Journal. Under Cronin’s leadership, HR implemented professional development courses for staff, leadership training for mid-level managers, staff appreciation events, service anniversary recognition for employees and town hall meetings with the president. Cronin was instrumental in the opening of the Rice Children’s Campus — the university’s first early learning facility for children of Rice faculty, staff and students. HR has coordinated the yearly benefits options for employees and assisted with recruitment and hiring of thousands of staff and faculty members. In the aftermath of hurricanes Ike and Harvey, HR set policy for accommodating employees who were unable to come to work and also arranged for on-campus day care when local school districts remained closed because of the flooding caused by Harvey. This year HR is launching Careers at Rice — a restructuring of job classifications and pay scale to help retain employees and encourage them to seek career advancement “here at the institute” — one of Cronin’s favorite phrases.

Kirby said Cronin often used that phrase in reference to Rice’s first 50 years, when the school was known as the William M. Rice Institute for the Advancement of Literature, Science and Art. “This was Mary’s way of both reminding us who we are and where we’ve come from and what makes Rice special while simultaneously delivering a kick in the pants,” he said.

Ambassador Edward Djerejian, director of Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, mentioned that the author of the 1937 novel “The Citadel” is Archibald (A.J.) Cronin, but his last name is not the only connection to Mary Cronin. “A citadel is a fortress protecting or dominating the city — in our case, a campus,” Djerejian said. “Mary has protected us and dominated us,” he added, commending her “astute, perspicacious insights, judgments and recommendations on a myriad of human resources challenges.” He thanked her for the critical communication she has provided not just to the Baker Institute but across campus. “We are indeed losing a great significant asset,” he said.

Ryan Kirksey, senior assistant to the president, read a message from President David Leebron, who expressed regrets about not being able to attend, due to unanticipated but necessary international travel.

“The success of any great enterprise and most especially universities depends on the contributions of its employees,” Leebron wrote. “That requires ultimately not merely management expertise and competence, but also fairness, decency and respect. Mary has led a great staff in ways that have supported these values that lie at Rice’s core, thereby fostering our sense of community. Despite the broad scope of Mary’s responsibilities, including areas that necessarily involve conflict, she has commanded immense and pervasive respect across our campus. So much that we have achieved, and now characterizes a university we are proud of, can be attributed to Mary’s contributions. We hope this small token of our appreciation will not only serve to remind Mary of her happy time at Rice, but also of the deep well of gratitude from so many across our campus. Mary, thank you so much. We wish you the best in your retirement.”

James Tate presents a framed certifcate to Mary Cronin.y Cronin

James Tate presents Mary Cronin a certificate of appreciation from the Rice University Police Department. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)

Chief of Police James Tate presented Cronin with a certificate of appreciation “in recognition of her leadership, dedication and support of the Rice University Police Department.”

“I am a firm believer that good leaders always leave their colleagues and organizations in a better place than they found them,” Tate said. “They’re able to do that because they’re great listeners, they’re great coaches and they surround themselves with smart people. They can laugh and cry with their team. And they instinctively know when to step in to help us find our way, give us guidance and provide us with encouragement that we need. Mary, you are all of those things. You have certainly left us in a better place than you found us.”

Rene Salinas-Schmidt, executive administrative assistant for project management and engineering in Facilities Engineering and Planning, said the Staff Advisory Committee that he co-chairs and staff across the university “can’t thank you enough for all that you’ve done on our behalf. You go above and beyond the RICE MILE” — a reference to an award given to exceptional staff members who exhibit eight core values: responsibility, integrity, community, excellence, mission-driven, impact, leadership and entrepreneurial spirit. Salinas then presented Cronin with a RICE MILE Award from the Staff Advisory Committee, which generated “Oh, wow!” and “Oh, boy!” repeatedly from Cronin.

Current and former HR staff members expressed their thanks and congratulations to Cronin via video. In honor of Cronin’s love of poetry, many of them crafted limericks and poems in which they lauded their boss’s mentorship, tenacity, integrity, sense of humor, friendship and kindness. The video ended with a plea for Cronin to recite a poem about February that she has performed at various gatherings with the HR team.

Cronin proceeded to recite from memory one of her favorite poems, “I’m Not Just February,” which she wrote in the third grade at St. Joseph School in Wakefield, Mass. “I am doing this under duress,” she joked, adding that until this moment, the largest group she had performed the poem for was her third-grade class.

As it turned out, “I’m Not Just February” was not just the only poem Cronin recited at the retirement reception. For this special occasion, she wrote an untitled poem in which she reminisced and shared her wisdom.

“It’s lately been told that for a small price, I’ll come by and wow you of Careers at Rice. The thing that I’ve learned, though, as each year has flown,
Is your own career isn’t really your own.
It’s a symphony of all who’ve helped you along.
Please indulge me a minute as I share my song.”

Continuing in verse, Cronin managed to name colleagues, her staff and other employees she’s worked with throughout her Rice career.

“… So floored by your constant commitment to Rice.
It’s ever our treasure, our pearl of great price,” she said.

Ending with a metaphor that described the Rice community as a garden, Cronin said,
“It cheers me to know our institute blossoms, continues to grow, with no upper limit, with eyes open wide — Edgar loves you to pieces — he’s rockin’ the ride.”

Kirby said a national search is being conducted for Cronin’s successor. The search consultants interviewed 30 people across campus about the criteria for Rice’s next director of Human Resources. Kirby said, “Uniformly our search consultants reported back that we want somebody just like Mary.”

(For more pictures from Cronin’s reception, click on the photo gallery below.)

Mary Cronin retires


About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.