I have a 15-year-old white T-shirt with teal blue lettering on the back that reads “Partners in Progress, UMass Lowell & the Community.” The Hanes Beefy-T has been washed maybe 700 times, but the fabric has not frayed and the words are not faded. There’s a slight tear under the left short sleeve that can be easily mended. On the back is a list of projects: Tsongas Arena, LeLacheur Park, Riverwalk, Lawrence Mills, Canalway, Campus Center. The front above the heart has a logo with a bridge spanning water. This could be the last survivor of the pile of shirts made for a big event organized in 2002 by then-Chancellor Bill Hogan. The new Campus Recreation Center was filled with hundreds of people from all parts of the city for a lunchtime celebration of the ambitious town-and-gown projects that were boosting Lowell up to another level of urban success. Bill Hogan’s name isn’t on the T-shirt or on any campus buildings, but the memory of that celebration and the accomplishments there recognized are as true a tribute to his contributions to his hometown and public higher education as any stone marker. When I heard of his passing this week, my vivid memory of the campus-city pep rally was one of countless recollections from my time working for and with him.
As an engineering professor, dean of the engineering college, academic vice president (provost), and then president and chancellor with the inclusion in the UMass system, Bill Hogan spent what would be a remarkable career in Lowell for most people. Less known is his time as a rocket scientist and aerospace engineer after graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His journey from St Peter’s Parish on Gorham Street and neighborhood baseball fields to playing a part in the US Space program of the 1960s and the upper ranks of public higher education is a stellar journey of his local generation. Like Paul Tsongas, his friend and teammate in the modern Lowell renaissance, Bill Hogan stayed the course for Lowell, moving the sticks as we would say of QB Tom Brady, racking up plenty of points. A person with imagination could see that Lowell State College and Lowell Technological Institute had tremendous potential in the 1970s. Thanks to the late Paul Sheehy, in particular, state action to merge the schools along the river proved to be one of the masterstrokes of the city’s comeback. With the establishment of the national park and formation of the Lowell Development & Financial Corp. combined with the Lowell Plan Inc., Lowell gained redevelopment capacity to go with the gathering energy of the Massachusetts Miracle in high tech growth at the time.
Bill Hogan got the reins of the new university and not only raised expectations that led to improved results on campus, but also moved the university into a productive relationship with the community. He could be a stern manager at times, but there was no doubt about his passion to lead a university that made a difference. I was fortunate to spend a lot of time around him, so shared the laughs and stories and lighter side along with serious business. My son went to grade school with one of his granddaughters, so we also got to know him as a proud and caring grandfather. Bill Hogan was known as a do-it-yourself type person at home in Chelmsford, where he lived for years. A professor-friend of mine said it was nothing to see him move a refrigerator by himself. No problem.
The days of two small colleges standing apart from the city on the riverbanks were over. The first university president John B. Duff had set the change in motion on that front. Bill Hogan served on the Lowell Historic Preservation Commission, US Dept. of the Interior, for years, making sure the university helped fulfill the vision of Lowell as a landmark American city. The innovative partnership between the College of Education and National Park Service at the Tsongas Industrial History Center is a global model of place-based, experiential learning for school children and teachers—more than 50,000 each year. At one time there was an innovative trilingual elementary school on the university’s West Campus in Chelmsford. When City Hall and business leaders needed a contributing partner to construct a sports-and-civic arena and minor-league baseball park, Chancellor Hogan committed the campus. Those two buildings were tangible proof of the university’s full integration into city life. Like that old credit card commercial on TV, the benefits derived so far from those two venues are “priceless.” Bill Hogan eventually reoriented the entire university toward the challenge of understanding the economic and social development of regions and identifying approaches that would allow places like Lowell to tame the brutal cycles of boom-and-bust caused by macro factors in society. He had seen the pain and lost chances in his hometown. He always spoke of climbing the innovation ladder. Scaling up applied research to meet manufacturing demands. He brought nano-technology research to the forefront. With state Sen. Steve Panagiotakos, he laid the groundwork for an emerging technologies research building on the North Campus, later named for the Saab family for its generous gift.
Others can say more about educational quality, research prowess, faculty accomplishments. Bill Hogan hired me as the first-ever community relations director on campus in 2000 after I had been a writer and editor in the communications office. That’s another small piece of evidence to make a case for the university’s engagement with the city and region. My view of university life is colored by the job I had. We did our best to create an atmosphere of mutual benefit with students and faculty learning and doing research in community settings while bringing our grant money and talent to the table to make daily life better. Overall, it’s been a win. Bill Hogan helped carry the public university in Lowell into the 21st century. The first two of his successors are graduates of the school during his time. That says as much as anything else about the quality of educational experience.
Farewell, Dr. Hogan, who was always encouraging, generous, and kind to me. After he retired, he said I could call him Bill, but he’ll always be Dr. Hogan to me. I may wear that old T-shirt to work in the garden today in honor of the home-improvement guy we just lost.