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An Officer for All Seasons
A rising star at Yale seven years ago, Linda Koch Lorimer left to run another school. Now she is back as University Secretary.

According to Linda Koch Lorimer, the 1977 Yale Law School graduate who last summer became secretary of the University after a successful stint as president of a small Virginia college, two of the toughest decisions she has ever had to make were, first, to leave Yale seven years ago, and then, to come back.

The first move came in 1986 when Lorimer—then a 34-year old associate in the Yale provost’s office—was offered the presidency of Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia. When she accepted, the job not only took her away from the university where she had established herself as a rising star in the administrative ranks. It also created a bruising commute for her husband Ernest Lorimer, a Connecticut attorney, who had to fly to Lynchburg each weekend to be with his wife and two children. “We had our eyes wide open to what it would entail,” recalls Lorimer. She spent the next six-and-a-half years in Lynchburg, during which time the college doubled its endowment, invested heavily in campus improvements, and made some substantial academic strides.

The second major decision was made last June. After receiving the call from Yale’s new President, Richard Levin, inviting her to serve as secretary (one of the University’s six officers), Lorimer consulted with her two children, daughter Kelly, now 11, and son Peter, 7. Both had been born in New Haven, and they said they wanted to see their father more than just on weekends and holidays. Lorimer decided it was time to come back.

“It does seem like a homecoming,” she says, sitting in her new office on the second floor of Woodbridge Hall. “I was very happy in Virginia. I had many projects to pursue, but Rick pulled me aside, and it just seemed like an opportunity I couldn’t resist.”

A slender, extraordinarily energetic woman with wire-rim glasses and brown curly hair, Lorimer looks younger than her 41 years. “She’s a person capable of putting in three times the effort of normal human beings in the same amount of time,” says Levin. “She’s already made a tremendous impact.”

Lorimer’s sense of humor, enthusiasm, and optimism about Yale seem almost to overflow as she speaks about the tasks ahead, any one of which could be considered daunting. She moves swiftly from issue to issue with a palpable concentration on each new matter at hand. Her days begin early, often with breakfast meetings. “The amount of work you can get done before 9 a.m. is wonderful,” she says. “I’ve always been a person who gets along on little sleep.”

While the return “home” is a happy one for Lorimer, her family, and her former Yale colleagues and friends, the challenges she faces moved speedily from meeting to meeting, listening and learning about what has been accomplished and what needs to be done. “I come knowing many people at Yale,” she says, “but I want to get ideas about how Yale can strengthen the life of this region. I hope we can move to sketch out a design of our own goals, not unilaterally, but to make the best contribution and not merely react to proposals.” A few among the many items under discussion are: getting a badly needed first-class hotel built downtown, greater involvement in the New Haven school system and social service programs, improvements to Yale’s 600 rental units as part of neighborhood revitalization around the campus area, and a major commercial biotechnology initiative now being planned next to the Medical School. “Yale cannot provide solutions by itself to New Haven’s problems, but we have the opportunity and the responsibility to help find and implement those solutions,” Lorimer says.

The problems of Yale and New Haven may have changed in both kind and scale since Lorimer left for Virginia, but the breadth of her experience during her previous nine years at the University gives her an unusual appreciation of its ways. For two years during law school, she lived in Calhoun College as a graduate fellow. “It was a grand opportunity to see Yale as few graduate and professional school students ever get to,” she says. The students of the college evidently felt much the same way toward her and presented her with the Wasserman Award for “exemplary leadership to the college community.”

Lorimer actually began her forays into higher education as a career even before she graduated from Yale Law School. As a student, she clerked for President Kingman Brewster and his legal adviser Jose Cabranes (now a federal judge and a Yale trustee) and pursued a course of study devoted to not-for-profit and education law. “It was not the normal diet of courses most of my schoolmates were selecting,” she says. But it did leave her time to meet and marry one of them, Ernest Lorimer ’77JD, who went on to practice corporate law and now works in Stamford.

Following a year on Wall Street, Lorimer returned to Yale, and in 1983, at age 31, she was tapped by A. Bartlett Giamatti to be one of Yale’s three associate provosts, the youngest person to reach that administrative rank. Her responsibilities covered academic and administrative policy for departments in the humanities, the Divinity School, the Center for International and Area Studies, and a number of other academic and administrative units, as well as some fundraising and labor negotiating. (She also taught a course on law for undergraduates.) Giamatti once described her as his “utility infielder.”

Giamatti’s enthusiasm for Lorimer’s work contributed heavily to the decision by Randolph-Macon Woman’s College—a century-old, 750-student liberal arts college in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains—to ask her to serve as president. The offer was particularly attractive because the college had never had a woman as president, let alone one who was only 34. Moreover, Lorimer had been raised in Virginia, where her parents still live (her father is a retired Navy pilot and her mother a homemaker), and attended Hollins College, a women’s institution where she had been valedictorian of her class. She jumped at the chance. “I’m a product of a women’s college,” says Lorimer, “and a great believer in a diverse system of higher education.”

However, when she moved to Virginia, she left behind many close ties to Yale and New Haven, including her husband, who remained with his Stamford law firm, traveling to Lynchburg on his limited time off.

Lorimer’s ties to Yale were reestablished in 1990, when she was elected to the Yale Corporation. After President Schmidt’s resignation in the spring of 1992, she served on the 12-member Presidential search committee that eventually selected Richard Levin, a long-time associate, as Yale’s 22nd President. A year after she conducted the first interview with Levin for his present job, he turned around and offered her the chance to return to Yale and reunite her family. She laughs when she recalls the Yale Daily News headline for a story on her that read, “Picking Your Own Boss.” According to Lorimer, her new boss has made it clear that “New Haven is the centerpiece of my role, but I advise on whatever pops up on Rick’s screen.”

Despite the many tasks she now confronts, Lorimer and her family still find time to sail, windsurf, and ski. But she insists that the job, too, is a pleasure. “I’m having great fun,” she says. “At the dinner table Ernie and I always ask the kids what they learned today. Now Ernie asks me the same question. As a real believer in the liberal arts as lifelong learning, I feel I’m being paid to live out that precept every day, because I’m learning every day.”  the end


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