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Currents: dear dad: a thank you note

January 2009

Dear Dad,

I know it has been nearly ten years since you passed away, but I also know that is no excuse for not writing sooner. I miss being able to talk with you and think of you often, so I just wanted to fill you in on some of what's been going on.

The family is wonderful, and the kids are great; the girls are doing fine in school and Patrick is thinking about law school next year. Susan and I have moved to New Hampshire, where for the last two-plus years I've been the president of a wonderful small college, Colby-Sawyer, which focuses totally and centrally on student learning and experience. We actually do make every decision by asking, How will students benefit?

I don't know if you get the paper where you are, but right now things down here are pretty crazy on the economic front. I won't go into much detail because it would take too long, but every day I realize how grateful I am for your lifetime of saving and your commitment to my education. Now you know better than me that there were times that you and I did not agree on things. Maybe it was generation gap in the 1960s and early '70s; maybe it was that our personalities were so similar; or maybe it was just the way things would be until I got a little older.

Certainly, I gave you a hard time because you tended to want to save your money. Dad, you know that for the most part, you never met a nickel you didn't want to keep. But, I also realize that the one place you never scrimped was on my education. You never batted an eye about investing in my schooling whether it was nursery school, high school, college, law school or graduate school. I know part of it was that everything you achieved in life was because of your own education and hard work.

Your commitment to saving and your commitment to education have helped guide me through these times. As you can imagine, many of the students at my college rely upon financial aid and loans to be able to afford school. Of course, we're worried now about the availability of loan funds and gifts for scholarships for our students in these difficult times.

Our concerns remind me of two lessons you taught me: one about borrowing and one about giving. I don't know if you remember, but you told me when I went off to college that one of your friends had suggested that I should borrow the money for school at low-interest rates. Then he suggested that you could then invest what you would have paid for my college if I had not borrowed it. You would earn a higher return than the interest I would have to pay. Then, at the end of four years you would pay off my loans and Galligan--father and son--would gain a net profit, equaling the return on the investment, less the interest payments (if any, because interest might not even have begun to accrue until I graduated).

As I recall, you told your friend you didn't think his proposed plan was right. You knew there were programs available under which I could possibly have borrowed money, and we could have made money; however, you said those programs were not designed for people like us to profit from, but were designed for people who needed loans to be able to afford an education. You didn't say it but I realized you, even as much as you loved to save, were happy and proud to be able to provide me with an education debt free.

I also know I was lucky that I did not have to work my way through college like you did. Many of our students today cannot afford an education debt free, so precious available loan funds must be provided to those students who need them, and not to those who don't. I also appreciate that you did not make me borrow money to put myself through college so that you could take trips, buy a boat, or upgrade the house. Thanks to you, Susan and I have been able, so far at least, to provide the same educational opportunities you gave me to your grandchildren. We know how lucky we are. The kids do, too.

All this remembering brings me to another story—this one about giving. I hope you recall that after my first year of law school I was lucky enough to be awarded a full scholarship for academic achievement for my remaining two years of school. I remember when I first told you about it you congratulated me, but then you paused and frowned just a little. For a second, my feelings were hurt.

I asked you, “What's the matter?”

“We don't need that money,” you said.

I replied, “Does that mean I can't keep it?” You see, I was very proud of myself for what I had accomplished.

“No, you can keep it,” you said, “but we will have to make a gift to the school equivalent to the amount of the scholarship.” And, over the years, you did exactly that.

You made me understand that the award was a great thing, but that there were people who needed the money more than I did, and that it was therefore incumbent upon us to support the school because we could afford to do so.

Well, I have to get going now to get back to dealing with the financial climate and how it affects my school. Wish me luck; I'll try to write again soon.


Your son Tom

Thomas C. Galligan Sr. died in 1999 at age 91. Orphaned at age 9, Galligan put himself through Rutgers University, from which he received his B.A. in 1929 and then Cornell Law School, from which he earned his LL.B. in 1932. In 1933, he joined the Law Department of Colgate Palmolive, where he worked for 52 years. Galligan endowed the Sara Clavin Scholarship at Rutgers and the Galligan Faculty Development Fund at Seattle University School of Law.

-President Tom Galligan