Adele Fleet Bacow: First Lady of Tufts
Fleet Bacow doesn't hesitate when asked about her home at Gifford
House on the Medford campus.
"It's going to be a ball," she says over the phone
from her office in Newton. "I had many heartwarming messages from
my friends and colleagues when they heard I was coming to Tufts.
My overriding impression is that people at Tufts are friendly and
welcoming. I'm looking forward to becoming a part of the community."
That anticipation is characteristic of Ms. Bacow,
who has a deep appreciation for community spirit. Over the past
25 years, she has brought the public and private sectors together
in unlikely collaborations to revitalize countless communities.
Her career includes serving as director of Design and Development
for the Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities and as
deputy director of the Massachusetts Government Land Bank.
Today she is founder and president of Community
Partners Consultants, Inc., where she develops creative approaches
to economic development, program and strategic planning, community
cultural development, design and the arts. Many of these lessons
are presented in her book, Designing the City: A Guide for Advocates
and Public Officials.
Raised in Jacksonville, Florida, Ms. Bacow was
one of five children whose father, a pediatrician, and mother, an
active volunteer, were influential in demonstrating the value of
service to others.
When she began her own volunteer work, she saw
where she might make her mark.
"I was a teenager when I volunteered with the
Head Start program," she recalls. "That was an eye-opening experience.
I grew up in a suburban neighborhood where people never worried
about their next meal. Working at Head Start, I literally rode my
bike across the railroad tracks to a completely different world."
Ms. Bacow set her heart on attending college in
Boston after visiting her sister, who graduated from Boston University
and Harvard University. She fell in love with the rich cultural
life of the city. Her first choice was none other than Jackson College.
Ironically, the wife of the future president of Tufts was wait-listed.
Perhaps it was a fortuitous disappointment. She
was admitted to Wellesley College, graduating in 1973 after defining
her own course of study. "I created my own major in urban design
because I was interested in urban sociology, art, architecture and
neighborhood revitalization," she says. "Wellesley offered cross-
registration with MIT so I could take advantage of its excellent
programs in architecture and urban planning. Professionally, I've
worked in places where I could collaborate with a lot of unusual
partners and bring in multiple disciplines to solve complex problems.
And I guess I've always been the kind of person who charted her
own way; if there wasn't a path for me to follow, I'd make my own."
Ms. Bacow was working at her first job at a management
consulting firm when she was introduced to a first-year Harvard
Law student, Lawrence Bacow. His roommate was dating Ms. Bacow's
college roommate, and the two were "fixed up." For their first date
they attended an Armenian cultural festival in Watertown.
"We had fun and we danced a lot," she says. "I
knew he had a great spirit." They were married in June 1975 (one
week following the marriage of their roommates who had fixed them
up). That fall, Ms. Bacow entered her first year of graduate school
in city planning at MIT.
The two had a strong connection from the beginning
with many values in common, she says. "We just try to make the most
of every moment; we're both down to earth, our lifestyles are not
materialistic, we enjoy being outdoors. We both love to travel as
well; that's one of the greatest pleasures that we have together."
Shared values also have played a part in creating
a close-knit family that enjoys skiing and sailing. Their two sons
are now college-age: Jay is studying physics at MIT and, as an avid
Ultimate Frisbee player, has competed against Tufts "E Men." Kenny,
who enjoys sailing, piano and biking, is attending the Wharton School
at the University of Pennsylvania.
The Bacow household at Gifford House will not
include pets, as President Bacow is allergic to cats and dogs. "We've
never had a pet, but we would have loved to," says Ms. Bacow. One
new addition to Gifford House, however, is a baby grand piano, her
most prized possession. Ms. Bacow returned to piano lessons as an
adult and continues to enjoy playing classical music.
As for her new role as the president's wife, Ms.
Bacow has high hopes. "In addition to being the 'First Lady' of
Tufts, I'd like to be the 'First Friend,'" she says. "I want to
be involved in the Tufts community and take advantage of all Tufts
has to offer, on and off campus, and be there with Larry when it
is helpful. I will keep my consulting practice, so there will be
some juggling, naturally. We are truly looking forward to this exciting
new chapter in our lives."