The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

President Larry Jameson speaks at a memorial celebration of Claire Fagin on April 17 (Photo from Eric Sucar).

Penn community members gathered for a memorial ceremony on April 17 in honor of Claire Fagin who served as Penn’s interim president from 1993 to 1994, and as dean of the School of Nursing from 1977 to 1992. 

Friends, former colleagues, and family members spoke about Fagin's life and impact during the memorial celebration, which took place in the Zellerbach Theatre in the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. Fagin, who died in early 2024 at the age of 97, was one of the first women to lead an Ivy League university, and the first woman to lead Penn. 

The program speakers included Interim President Larry Jameson, former Penn President Judith Rodin, and former President Amy Gutmann, among others. Members of the Penn Glee Club performed an opening musical selection, and Krista Pinola, chair of the Nursing School Board of Advisors, performed the closing vocals alongside Nursing School student singers.

Nursing Dean Antonia Villarruel began the memorial service with an anecdote of a phone call between her and Fagin that occurred in 2022. According to Villarruel, Fagin had told her that she was “getting ready to go”, and spoke with her about the details of the memorial service she wanted to have after her death.

Villarruel said that during the phone conversation, Fagin nominated her son, Charles Fagin, as well as Villarruel herself, to emcee the event. Fagin also identified students, colleagues, and friends who she wanted to speak at the event.

“Whether you’re sharing our reflections today or not, whether you knew Claire or not, you are here because Claire had an impact on you and this university and beyond,” Villarruel said. “I know many of you in turn had an impact on her.”

Following Villarruel was University Chaplain Reverend Charles “Chaz” Howard, who spoke on Fagin's legacy. He praised Fagin's “remarkable” leadership skills, referring to her as “The Healer” — a nickname she earned from restoring Penn’s sense of community in a difficult time.

“An inspiring example set by Dr. Fagin not only endures but is richly instructive,” Howard said. “As we honor her legacy and memory, we also listen closely to her teachings. The Healer has lessons for us still.”

Former President Judith Rodin served as president after Fagin, and went on to lead the school for a decade. She reflected on Fagin's dedication to Penn, specifically her efforts to “heal the campus” both structurally and financially. 

“No placeholder, no caretaker was Claire Fagin,” Rodin said. “And I must say it was both wondrous and challenging to follow because Claire loved the role, and Penn loved her back.”

She said that Fagin understood the significance of creating pathways for women at Penn, especially in fields dominated by men. Fagin implemented many initiatives to foster women's success during her time as a University leader, including mentorship programs, leadership seminars, and advocacy efforts.

Gutmann, who was Penn’s president after both Rodin and Fagin, recalled feeling “supported” by Fagin during her term.

“I cannot count the number of messages I received from Claire out of the blue, always uplifting and on the pulse beat of what was happening on Penn’s campus,” Gutmann said.

The next six speakers were all close friends of Fagin who she had designated before her death to speak at the memorial. These included former colleagues from Penn — such as professor emerita Neville Strumpf, and current professor Linda Aiken — as well as from the New York University Rory Meyers College of Nursing, where Fagin earned her doctorate, and taught as a professor until 1969. 

Former Nursing School Dean Afaf Meleis, who was unable to attend the ceremony, appeared through a video projected onto a screen. Meleis said that she first met Fagin when Fagin was invited to the University of California San Francisco as a visiting professor. Years later, Meleis accepted Penn’s offer to be the dean of the Nursing School.

“It is [at Penn] that I experienced firsthand [Fagin's] deep influence, her incredible legacy, and her fabulous mentorship,” Meleis said.

Other speakers also shared personal stories from their experiences working with Fagin. Jodi Sarkisian, who was Fagin's assistant during her term as interim president, recounted an anecdote of seeing her walk into College Hall to accept her presidency.

“She wore a bright green knit dress, and laughed easily,” Sarkisian said. “Her strides were long and purposeful, and I remember how confident she was when she met with Sheldon Hackney in the president’s office, and how confident she was that day when he handed over the reins as he departed for the [National Endowment for the Humanities].”

Sarkisian said that Fagin became interim president in a time when the work was “voluminous and complex”, and was able to “calm” the University while continuing to build onto its strong foundation.

The final speaker of the ceremony was Charles Fagin, who thanked students and faculty for attending the event.

“Claire would have loved this, and wanted us all together to continue gathering and making a difference in the world, and to take care of each other, and to love each other, and to remember to use your voice,” he said. “And she would’ve loved that.”