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‘Beloved’ staff member to be honored for 37 years of service to Northeastern

Anne Sullivan is retiring from Northeastern after 37 years of service to the university. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Anne Sullivan has spent the vast majority of her adult life at Northeastern University—and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s never boring, it’s fast-paced, it keeps you on your toes,” says Sullivan, who is retiring on Wednesday after more than 37 years of service to Northeastern. “To be exposed to students, faculty, and staff with so many different backgrounds, skills, and talents is exciting and worth getting up for work every single day.”

Sullivan, who spent the balance of her tenure at Northeastern as a staff member in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences, will be honored for her dedication to the university on Monday from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Raytheon Amphitheater. Longtime colleagues describe her as “bright,” “dedicated,” and “loyal.” She’s “beloved by students,” they say, and “devoted to Northeastern’s success.”

“I think Northeastern will sorely miss her institutional knowledge, her problem-solving ability, and her passion for getting things done right,” says Nancy Warner, a now retired senior academic adviser in Bouvé who worked directly with Sullivan from 1988 to 2001. “She’s always believed in the value of co-op to allow students to grow and thrive.”

‘Education is one of the most noble fields’

Sullivan, Ed’78, MEd’83, grew up in Hyde Park, Massachusetts. Her father graduated from Northeastern in 1954 under the GI Bill and she followed suit, earning her bachelor’s degree in education in 1978. She chose Northeastern for the co-op program, saying that “exposure to the world of work in combination with classroom instruction is an amazing way to get an education.”

“I think Northeastern will sorely miss her institutional knowledge, her problem solving ability, and her passion for getting things done right.”

Nancy Warner Sullivan's longtime colleague

After spending two years as a first-grade teacher at a parochial school in Dorchester, Massachusetts, Sullivan returned to Northeastern to work as a co-op counselor and earn her master’s degree in education. As a counselor from 1980 to 1985, she saw similarities between teaching 7-year-olds how to read and helping 20-year-olds find co-op jobs. “Both groups are eager and passionate and excited to be in school,” she explains. “They’re like sponges.” For her, education is “one of the most noble fields” and educators “have the future of the world in their hands.”

Sullivan recalls her time as a co-op counselor with great fondness. She adored her peers, 20-somethings like her with a strong worth ethic and zest for life. Some of them have even gone on to become her lifelong friends. “That’s where I grew up,” she says. “To be surrounded by so many dedicated, enthusiastic, smart people was fantastic.”

‘The kids loved her’

Sullivan has worked in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences for the past 32 years, first as director of student services and then as assistant dean for administrative affairs. She had the opportunity to collaborate with scores of students, faculty, and staff across campus, in departments ranging from Facilities to Information Technology Services to the Office of the University Registrar. As she puts it, “I got to know a lot of pieces of the university.”

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Sullivan will miss Northeastern’s people the most, the students, faculty, and staff who helped to imbue her life’s work with purpose. She calls Bouvé students “enthusiastic” and “energetic,” and describes staff as the “backbone” of the university, saying “they really make campus feel like more of a community.”

Students adore her. In 1996, they surprised her by decorating her office for her birthday. “That spoke to how much the kids loved her,” says Warner, who retired in 2013 following 28 years of service to Northeastern. “Lots of students made it because of her care.”

Jack Reynolds, dean of the School of Pharmacy in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences, has worked with Sullivan for the past 16 years. According to him, her greatest attribute is her “excellent service and wise advising to all in the college.” But he also admires her sense of humor, citing a fun story as a prime example. Shortly after he arrived at Northeastern in 2002, Bouvé held a family outing at the Warren Conference Center and Inn in Ashland, Massachusetts. There was water, a splash, a laugh. “Anne showed my family and me to the paddle boats and I stumbled into the lake while getting in,” Reynolds recalls. “I saw her suppressing a laugh, which made it even funnier to me.”

‘It’s time to fly the coop’

Sullivan is a “saver.” She likes to keep things. While looking through stacks of files from her time at Northeastern on a recent afternoon, she began to reflect on her 62 years on the planet. She divided her life into thirds: from birth to age 30; from 30 to 60; and from 60 to 90. She’s spent the vast majority of the first two-thirds of her life at Northeastern, she reasoned, and figured “it’s time to fly the coop and see what else is out there.”

Sullivan wants to relax, spend more time with family. She wants to find volunteer opportunities to harness her interests in gun safety and refugee rights. She wants to work with kids. Most of all, she says, “I want to create space to think about what’s next.”