Remembering Dean for Students Marijo Russell O’Grady

Alexandra Puga, Executive Editor

On Aug. 8, the University lost one of its most memorable faces on the New York City campus. Dean Marijo Russell O’Grady passed away last week after a recurring battle of breast cancer. She had been serving as the Associate Vice President/Dean for Students at the New York City campus since 1998.

O’Grady was born Dec. 31, 1960 in Chautauqua County N.Y. Her obituary reads “Marijo had no regrets and led a full and engaged life, she is remembered by all who encountered her.”

She attended Buffalo State College and received a Bachelor of Science (1983) and Masters of Science (1985) in Art Education with a Concentration in Art Therapy. Later in 1999, she received a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from New York University. Before coming to the University, O’Grady worked at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Rivier University and New York University. 

In March 2019, she co-authored a book with Katie L. Treadwell titled “Crisis, Compassion and Resiliency: Using Triage Practices to Foster Well-Being” which highlights “the personal lived experiences of student affairs professionals who frequently encounter crisis situations and disasters on college and university campuses.”

Since 1985, she had been a member of NASPA and in 2011 began serving on their Regional Board. She also served on the NYC DOHMH World Trade Center Health Registry Board as Former Chair of their Community Advisory Board until her passing, as well as the WTCHR Scientific Review Board. 

Aside from her duties off-campus, she was awarded the Irish Voice, Irish Educator Award in 2001 and the Bronze Jefferson Award, the Nobel Prize for Community & Public Service by the University in 2016. 

At the University, she oversaw Student Development and Campus Activities, Orientation, Housing and Residential Life, Counseling Services, Multicultural Affairs, the Student Information desk and Judicial Affairs.

The Pace Press spoke with her close colleagues including Todd Smith-Bergollo, Dr. Richard Shadick, University President Marvin Krislov and University senior Carter Boyd. 

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Smith-Bergollo has been at the University for five years and, “worked with Marijo as my supervisor throughout my time at Pace. I also worked with Marijo at NYU in 1997-98 and have been connected with her personally and professionally ever since.”

When asked to share his favorite memory of her, he said, “So many of my memories of times with Marijo remind me of her never-ending energy.  She was so spirited and animated, which drew others to her.”

“I hope that people remember Marijo’s heart.  She led with her heart and had great compassion for others.  She always asked about people’s lives – how their family members were doing, how they were feeling, etc – and she really cared about their responses and she would always follow up again later,” he continued, “I hope that others can help promote her legacy by caring and advocating for others, which is what Marijo did nearly every day of her life.  Pace is a very caring community and I believe that was in part due to Marijo’s influence!”

Dr. Shadick also worked with Dean O’Grady for 22 years and recalled, “One of my favorite encounters with Marijo was when I accidentally called her number at 3 AM when I was calling what I thought was 311 to make a noise complaint. She was not angry with me for waking her, gave me the correct information, wished me a good night and laughed it off the next day when I had a meeting with her. She had a big heart.”

Shadick hopes she is remembered for her connection to so many people, “Whether she was talking with a member of the Board of Trustees or the man who was on the corner trying to make a dollar by getting cans from the trash, she treated them all the same. She knew their names, knew key details of their lives and talked with them in the same easy manner. I used to tease her and call her the Mayor of Downtown.”

He ended his remarks with what he hopes will become her legacy and how she will stay connected to the University, “I hope that there is a scholarship in her name for first-generation students from rural areas. Dean O’Grady was proud of the fact she came from a small town in rural Buffalo and became a Dean in NYC. She would show me pictures of her home street, share news from her town and often go back and connect with the community. It only seems fitting that a scholarship that gives students the same opportunity she got should be in her name.”

University senior Carter Boyd has frequently worked alongside Dean O’Grady during his time at the University. Boyd said, “I would want her legacy at Pace to be remembered by the students and administration for her unwavering and unshakeable dedication to the student experience.”

An incident at the University Boyd recalls is one that he and other students pushed for the administration to take responsibility for.  “When Handshake distributed some misleading information about a webinar hosted by the Department of Homeland Security, I coordinated with Dean O’Grady to facilitate a meeting between student representatives, SGA representatives, the head of Career Services and Tiffany Hamiliton.”

Boyd continued, “After the student representatives in the room voiced their concerns, the department chair of Career Services seemed to not understand the student requests and was hesitant to issue an apology. In response, I began yelling at Tiffany and Marijo for a solid five minutes and all Marijo responded with was, ‘Carter, whatever SGA wants distributed, send it over. We’ll run it by University Relations, and issue an apology as well as work to address some systemic changes.’ I quickly apologized because I knew she heard us and understood and I was just making her life harder than it needed to be. After a wordy apology, she turned to the group and said, ‘Making my life hard is what keeps me young, energetic and employed. So never feel bad about reaching out when there is something I can fix.'”

The Student Government Association paid tribute to O’Grady with their latest Instagram post that states “She was a mentor, a role model, a self-proclaimed “mom away from home,” and for so many of us, she was our biggest cheerleader and advocate.” They continued, “We all must remember that the biggest way to honor Dean Marijo is to hold our heads high and aim for the stars.”

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The Pace Press also spoke with President Marvin Krislov who has worked with O’Grady since 2017. He recalled the first encounter he had with her— in her fashion, she was welcoming to him before he had even arrived on campus. Krislov said, “She reached out to me and said, ‘Welcome. I want to tell you about Lower Manhattan and all the good things that are here.’ She took an interest in me as a human being and my transition because I had never lived in New York. That sort of care and concern for people was really Marijo’s hallmark and she really was all about the people and making sure they were okay.”

Krislov also spoke of his most memorable moment with her while teaching UNV101. “I called Marijo and she got right on it. There was a comfort of having her around campus and how well she excelled at her job as Dean for Students,” he said, “It was so comforting to me to know that someone like Marijo could take these students and really look out for them and find the resources and connections and help they needed—doing it in a way that made them feel good.”

Krislov continued, “There are so many areas she excelled in. One area that I’m familiar with is her work on 9-11. She was here at the time, and along with others made sure that everybody was taken care of. She was also involved in the efforts to remember 9-11. It was a meaningful and hard time for her, and she was proud of the work that she and others at Pace did.”

While Krislov has only worked alongside her since 2017, O’Grady taught him, and many others, valuable lessons. “She always showed us that no problem is too small and no person’s concerns should go unheard.” 

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Krislov ended his statement by saying, “We all are very sad at her loss. It is a huge loss— there are a lot of people I’ve talked to who are emotional, including members of the board. Within our student body, faculty, staff and alumni, there is just so much love for Marijo. She will always be a part of this community and we’re working to find the right ways to honor her and celebrate her many contributions.”

“You might say she was the heart and soul of the New York City campus, so involved and so connected. When I was with her, you could see the connection she had with the students. She was always so positive. I can see her face and I can see her smile,” he added. 

She leaves behind her husband of 29 years, Mark D. O’Grady and her son James Russell O’Grady. She is survived by her father Gerald W. Russell (92); her sisters Kathleen Russell Babin and husband Bob; Jeanne Dorn and her husband Jeff; Lynne Hayes and husband Rob; in-laws Dr. Alan O’Grady and wife Sally Jean; Judy O’Grady Ciencewicki and husband Michael; Diane Ogasian and husband John, and many loving nieces and nephews. 

The University is working alongside her family to hold a memorial in Dean O’Grady’s honor on campus which will be announced at a later date.