Accomplished University Executive and Public Servant Named Distinguished Alumna
by Pamela Batson
In the 40 years since she graduated from Penn State, J. Bonnie Newman ’69 M.Ed. has had an extraordinary life and the rare privilege of a prolific career that spans the public, private, nonprofit, and academic sectors. The common thread in each endeavor is her commitment to service.
After graduation, Newman accepted a position at the University of New Hampshire, and by the age of 26, she was appointed dean of students. In this role, she become a liaison between the university and state officials, which later afforded her the opportunity to volunteer on then Governor Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign. This experience would be the beginning of a long journey that includes positions in the administrations of two U.S. presidents.
First, Newman joined the non-profit sector as executive director of the Forum on New Hampshire’s Future from 1978-1980. In this role, she traveled the state encouraging citizens to develop master plans for their communities.
As part of her emphasis on civic engagement, Newman says, “It’s critical for people in a democracy to be well informed in the life of their communities”.
By 1982 she was living in Washington, D.C., and had reconnected with her former colleagues from Reagan’s campaign. It was then that she officially entered the Reagan White House as associate director of the Office of Presidential Personnel. A year later, President Reagan appointed her as assistant secretary of commerce for economic development.
In 1985, she took a break from Washington to serve as president of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire, and later was named president of the New England Council Inc. A few short years later she was called upon to serve under President George H.W. Bush as assistant to the president for Management and Administration, where she oversaw all administrative operations for the White House and Executive Office of the President.
Having served in an atmosphere of government and politics, Newman sees a distinction between the two in that politics are partisan by nature and government is more the management of a complex service organization. She further explains, “People need to participate as citizens in their government, whether it is at town meetings, the school board, state legislature or congress. Our republic is dependent upon participation by well-informed citizens able to make critical judgments on behalf of their communities.”
After leaving the government, Newman pursued and succeeded in early-stage entrepreneurial opportunities. She was the founder and owner of Coastal Broadcasting Corporation, licensee of WZEA-FM radio. Even in the broadcast business, her commitment to service found a place. She ran public service and community-oriented programs, children’s programming that dealt with real world issues and succeeded in raising the station’s profile.
It’s perhaps irony or serendipity, as Newman likes to say, that brought her full circle back into academia. After selling Coastal Broadcasting, she found herself as interim dean of the Whitmore School of Business at the University of New Hampshire. Soon afterwards, she accepted the position of executive dean at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government where she served for five years. She concluded her career in academia most fittingly as interim president at the University of New Hampshire, where her career in higher education started 40 years ago.
Today, Newman sits on a number of corporate and non-profit boards. She is director of the Lumina Foundation, FairPoint Communications, Gilbane Building Co., and Exeter Trust Company, and the former chairman of the United States Naval Academy Board of Visitors and former vice chair of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. Her achievements have been recognized with numerous awards and honorary degrees from six academic institutions.
Although one may consider her semi-retired, it was only a few months ago that New Hampshire Governor John Lynch tapped her to replace Senator Judd Gregg when he was nominated to be commerce secretary in President Obama’s Administration. Circumstances changed or perhaps serendipity intervened, but Gregg declined the nomination and retained his senatorship.
“I’ve been accused of not doing retirement very well. I find the boards on which I participate to be intellectually challenging and substantive, and I enjoy working with bright colleagues. I hope to always be able to make a difference,” Newman said.
To honor her lifelong achievements, Penn State named Newman a 2009 Distinguished Alumna. The award is the highest honor that the University bestows upon an outstanding alumna or alumnus. The award salutes the achievements of outstanding alumni whose “personal lives, professional achievements, and community service exemplify the objectives of their alma mater.” President Graham Spanier will honor Newman along with other recipients at a reception and dinner on June 6.
“The positive influence and leadership that Ms. Newman has displayed throughout her distinguished career, both as a professional and in her service to communities and organizations, rank her among Penn State’s most accomplished alumni,” said College of Education Dean David H. Monk.
“I was thrilled and surprised by this honor when I was contacted. It is humbling considering how many accomplished Penn State alumni there are around the country and the world. I’m looking forward to being back on campus and connecting with former friends and colleagues, “said Newman.
In addition to her many professional honors and awards, the Penn State Alumni Association named Newman an Alumni Fellow in 2005. It is the most prestigious award given by the Alumni Association.
Newman is a graduate of St. Joseph’s College of Maine. An avid golfer who enjoys the outdoors, she resides in North Hampton, NH.