Thursday June 16, 2011
Marion Brown Thorpe, of South Burlington, was presented with an honorary doctor of humane letters by the University of Vermont.
A member of the UVM Class of 1938, Thorpe was greatly influenced, both as a teacher and a friend, by UVM’s first woman faculty member, Bertha Terrill. Thorpe acquired from Bertha Terrill not only the academic foundation upon which she would build her own legacy as a teacher and scholar, but also the leadership skills that would bind her to generations of UVM students to come.
After graduating with a degree in home economics education in 1938, she went on to earn her Master of Science degree at Syracuse University, returning to join the faculty at UVM, where she taught home economics education for 33 years, retiring in 1974. Her students found in her not only an inspiring and gifted teacher but also a friend, mentor and advisor who helped launch and sustain many a successful career during an era not known for its encouragement of women in America’s business and professional worlds.
The longest serving member of the Vermont Alpha Lambda Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma, whose mission is to support women students and confer distinction on women educators, she was honored in 2008 for her 60-year affiliation with the group. She was recognized in 1987 for 50 years of service to the American Home Economics Association and received the Outstanding Alumni Award of UVM’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in 1999.
A self-described “ordinary person from the little town of Brandon, Vermont,” she remembers with fondness how Bertha Terrill helped many young women to meet their college expenses from her own savings. “She’d say, ‘You can’t always pay back the person who does something for you, but you can pass it on to someone else.’” Marion Brown Thorpe has done exactly that, both during her tenure on the faculty and beyond. She and her late husband Norman established the Marion Brown Thorpe and Norman Thorpe Scholarship Fund to provide scholarship assistance to students in the Teacher Education Program.
The professor emerita inspired in her own students the same commitment to helping others that Bertha Terrill demonstrated so many decades ago. In 2001, a group of her former students established the Marion Brown Thorpe Student Enrichment Fund to honor her for her devotion to students and service to the University.
In her “Opening Reflection” at the university’s historic 200th Commencement Ceremony in 2004, Professor Thorpe said to the graduates, “I leave you with this. You may be only one person in the world. But you may be the world to one person.” At age 96, Marion Brown Thorpe has embodied the wisdom of those words for generations of UVM students and alumni.