The Colgate Scene
Through him, we all know Colgate better
|By Scott Meiklejohn '77|
It figures that Jim Leach is already out the door before this issue of The Colgate Scene appears.
Jim, who served Colgate for 25 years as director of communications and editor of The Colgate Scene, assistant to the president, secretary to the Board of Trustees, and vice president for communications and public relations, retired at the end of May. Many alumni know Jim; all alumni know Colgate better because of Jim. It's fitting that the man who spent his career putting Colgate in bright lights while keeping himself in the background has slipped out of the Ad Building without fanfare. Still, Jim greatly deserves the recognition he avoids, and he deserves our thanks.
Raised up the road in Clinton, N.Y., Jim's adventurous streak took him to Panama, SUNY-Plattsburgh, and the bold experiment of Eisenhower College before leading him to Hamilton in 1980 at the beginning of the Langdon administration. Five presidents later, Jim leaves after editing 128 issues of the Scene and guiding two editors through 14 more issues. You may not have noticed his byline or the small "JL" at the end of dozens of articles, but if you've kept up with Colgate via the Scene, it was Jim Leach carrying you through the past 25 years. Jim is rightly proud of Colgate's unique tabloid format, and the publication won more than a dozen awards from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) during Jim's years. Jim was awarded a Maroon Citation in 1991 for his many contributions to Colgate.
Scrolling through the Scene archive gave me a chance to review the breadth of Jim's talent and the depth of his feeling for Colgate. His first major story, in November 1980, was on changes in residential life (what goes around, comes around). There were dozens of alumni profiles; the wonderful July 2002 appreciation of Jane Pinchin's interim year as president, which included 9/11; comprehensive, big-issue stories such as the piece on trends in intercollegiate athletics (January 1997); and a look at the life of faculty on the tenure track (May 2000). He appreciated Colgate's evolution and he understood Colgate's traditions -- the blend of fresh and timeless always came through in his writing. You never would have called his programs over-funded but, as Jim himself once wrote, "there was always enough to tell the college's stories in full."
Jim's thoughtful approach to presenting Colgate in words and photos showed in areas beyond the Scene, including admissions viewbooks, fundraising materials, annual reports, and presidential speeches. He led a staff
that included Deb Barnes, Marian Blanchard, Bob Cornell, John Hubbard '72, and Hannah McClennen; and more recently Kathy Bridge, Rebecca Costello, Gerry Gall, Caroline Jenkins, Karen Luciani, Tim O'Keeffe, Tim Sofranko, and his successor, Charlie Melichar. He gave credit where credit was due and he never sought to play up his own role in a success.
His work called for the involvement of outside consultants on many Colgate publications and special projects, and he had some huge successes. But Jim wasn't afraid to say when he thought his team could do it better than the hired guns or when he thought the consultants lacked a grasp of Colgate's special qualities. He wielded a sly, understated sense of humor and he could appreciate a zinger (and a Stinger) with the best of them.
Jim faced some challenges, including the reality that he was a professional in an area in which everyone is an expert. He worked gracefully with colleagues, clients around campus, presidents, trustees, and others, giving straight answers and honest advice while navigating all of the guidance he received about how best to present Colgate. Rock-solid as the Colgate spokesman, he drew on the expertise of alumni in the media and built many strong relationships for the university.
Credit for the strength of Colgate's relationship with Hamilton, and the recent revitalization of the village, can be shared by a large group of town and college people, but Jim certainly is near the top of any list. His service as a director of the Partnership for Community Development has been outstanding, and he will be missed downtown as much as he will be on campus.
I respect Jim as a father and a family man as much as I do his legacy on the job. Jim and Linda Leach raised three wonderful children in their home across the street from Merrill House; golfers who hit a big slice off the sixth tee at Seven Oaks are familiar with the property. Travis '94 and Darcie '98 became Colgate students and Tyler went to Dad's hometown, graduating from Hamilton College in 2002. There is always laughter and a warm welcome waiting at the Leach house, a fire crackling in the woodstove, Jim's famous popcorn popping in the kitchen, and a friendly golden retriever curled up on the floor.
Having made his quiet getaway, Jim is likely reading this up in the Adirondacks. Jimmy, we miss you. We hope your freelance life is going well and we hope that your new clients will be many, interesting, and appreciative. You'll have more time for adventures now. Maybe another drive to Panama
. . . or another bike trip across Ireland
. . . or golf with those who are proud to call you friend. As the Irish say, "May the strength of three be in your journey."
From all of us, thank you for 25 great years at Colgate.
Scott Meiklejohn '77 recently completed a term as president of the Alumni Corporation Board of Directors.
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