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By Gerianne Wright
After 44 years with SUNY Plattsburgh, and after holding nearly a dozen different administrative posts, the most pressing thing on Tom Moran’s mind these days is packing up four decades’ worth of papers.
“Given the roles I’ve played, I can’t just say I’m going to throw it all away,” the SUNY distinguished service professor said.
Moran will retire at the end of August after having spent nearly 50 of his 69 years in Plattsburgh, first as an undergraduate, then as a graduate student, and then as an administrator on campus. With the exception of a two-year stint in the Peace Corps serving in the West Indies after graduation in 1969, and a one-year commitment as director of the Clinton County Community Crisis Center, he has been a mainstay on campus.
Moran served under nine presidents, held administrative positions in every division on campus, and changed titles 11 times.
“Over the years — and certainly as provost — I’ve had policy positions and proposals that I’ve written; I have written thousands of pages of correspondence, letters of reference, support of proposals, eulogies I’ve given, commemorative speeches I’ve made,” his voice trailed off. “One of the things that I took and I take very seriously is respecting others’ lives. When people do worthy things and behave in admirable ways, representing that is an important task. I tried always to say what is truly distinctive about the person. All of that is represented in the papers I am dealing with.”
Moran arrived on campus in the fall of 1966 and said he hadn’t even planned on applying to Plattsburgh. A friend from high school in Oyster Bay, Long Island, was coming up in the spring that year to check out the college and asked Moran to tag along. They got a room in the long-since-burned-down Cumberland Hotel, and as he looked out from an upstairs porch down Court Street and could see the front of Hawkins Hall, and then as he looked east out toward Lake Champlain and the mountains of Vermont, Moran said he knew he wanted to come here.
He studied history and said that if you asked him back then if he envisioned himself spending his life and career in Plattsburgh, he’d have said no.
“When I was on my way out of town after graduating, I thought I’d never see this place again,” Moran said.
“I love this area with a passion. It’s a remarkable place...”
But as a kid he had always been fascinated by the wars that were fought in the Champlain Valley, so getting to live here where so much history was made gave him a kid-in-a-candy-shop excitement.
“It was serendipitous that I returned. I came back from the Peace Corps a conscientious objector, and— because there was the air base here — I was assigned alternate services. I became the director of the crisis center,” he said. “I’ve loved it ever since.”
He began his tenure on campus at an exciting time in the SUNY system. As a student, he witnessed the college transform from that of a teachers college to a comprehensive arts and sciences school. As a graduate student, he witnessed the tremendous growth and expansion of the Rockefeller years when the majority of campus buildings were constructed.
In 1972, he was asked to serve in a one-year position as assistant to the dean of social sciences, where he was responsible for administrative operations for the program.
“I’ve had 11 jobs or so since on campus. I believe it’s given me more perspective than most people ever have,” he said.
Indeed, Moran has served as director of Upward Bound, assistant vice president for both Student Affairs and Academic Affairs, then as vice president and provost for Academic Affairs. He served a year as interim vice president for Institutional Advancement in 2005-2006 while serving as founder and director of what became one of the things for which is he most proud, the Institute for Ethics in Public Life.
In 2002, he was promoted to the rank of distinguished service professor.
“Through all my positions on campus, many kept me very close to faculty,” Moran said. “Even in the institute, which to date has seen 82 fellows and others whom I got to know well, and, occasionally, to be in awe of them.”
He’s also been able to get to know countless students — so many of whom have maintained lasting friendships. One of the students he got to know — his first day as a freshman — has been his wife for 45 years. Kathy Gitsas Moran sat next to him in class, and, as he has said many times over the years, he was smitten at first glance. They married and raised two daughters in the city’s old historic district, the neighborhood Moran could see from the porch of the Cumberland those many years before.
The rest of the students with whom he has interacted over the years “have all been open-faced, earnest and grateful throughout all of these years,” he said. “For me, they have been the antidote to everything in the news. Working with them has made me feel hopeful — they’ve given me a reason to feel hopeful.”
And as he shuffles the papers, purges the files, un-shelves the books in his office in the institute in Hawkins Hall before his Aug. 31 departure date, Moran is content.
“I love this area with a passion,” he said. “It’s a remarkable place. I’ve loved it since I first saw it, and I’ve also seen the world. I have lived an enormously fortunate life.”
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