Karen Mills shines in Maine and beyond
"Oh, those are good," she says, pointing to a
case in the corner of the Bowdoin Express. "Have you ever had a Fresh
"No, but I'll try one," I reply. I pick out a
Mango Mama, and Karen Mills and I walk from the Bowdoin Express to Morrell
Lounge to chat.
A graduate from and overseer at Harvard, a decidedly successful
career in venture capital, mother of three, wife of President Mills-and
Karen Mills is telling me about fruit juice. "I really like Desperately
Seeking C. It's good with all these colds going around."
That said, it's clear that Mrs. Mills doesn't have time
to get sick. She is a very busy woman. As a partner with Solera Capital,
she commutes at least once a week to New York City. While advances in
communications allow her to conduct some of her business from Brunswick,
she still feels that it's important to have a "hands-on" aspect
to her job. And she's no stranger to the Big Apple, having lived and worked
there from 1977 right up to President Mills' appointment here in Brunswick.
"Where are you from?"'s are exchanged all around.
Hearing Buffalo mentioned, she rattles off some thoughts on their recent
loss. I check the place, the time, and the person again. It seems I am
at the right meeting. She smiles. And then I feel I should have expected
it the whole time. Like it is normal for a Fresh Samantha-drinking, working
whether at work or home, mother of three, wife to the President to be
able to chat about "the game."
Mrs. Mills recalls the excitement of life in New York with
a smile, but her time as a NYC resident was before September 11. "No
question," she quickly responds when asked if she's glad to be in
Brunswick following the terror attacks. "The city is very damaged,
very troubled. The wounds are just below the surface. I think people know
that it's only a matter of time until the next incident,"-the warm
smile is gone now-"I know a lot of mothers in New York, and they
all have plans to get to their children when the next attack occurs."
She looks down for a moment, and the smile less face grows concerned.
Perhaps a mental note to call the big city and check in on a friend.
Far from lamenting the move from NYC, Mrs. Mills sees a
plethora of advantages to being a resident of Brunswick, quickly grasping
the brighter side of what could have been a difficult situation.
She speaks with genuine affection for the people here: "They're unusually warm and hospitable. They care about the quality of life. The whole town brings a sense of values that New York lacked." Eager to take advantage of the nearby amenities, Mrs. Mills includes Scarlet Begonias, the Bohemian Café, and the Women's Fitness Center as some of her and her family's favorite local spots.
Her three sons, William, Henry, and George, are in the Brunswick
schools, active in sports and making new friends. Mrs. Mills is relieved
they are adjusting so well, and it is clear that they are at the center
of her life. "They're always over here in the gym playing basketball,
and we can't wait for the lacrosse season to begin. That's the big sport,
Karen Mills' relationship with Bowdoin started when she
met her future husband, Barry Mills. Her first visit to campus was at
President Mills' 10-year reunion in June 1982. "It was one of those
days," she remembers. "It just poured." Nevertheless, Mills
drew comfort and familiarity from Bowdoin's characteristic New England
architecture-architecture that also graces the campus of her alma mater
Mills remembers the day her husband was asked to serve as
Bowdoin's fourteenth president: "He said, 'I think they're going
to ask me to do this,' and I asked him what he thought about it. And the
look on his face-it took a nanosecond to think about it; it was completely
clear." Once in Maine, Mrs. Mills wasted no time getting to know
the campus better, listing the Quad and the Arctic Museum among her favorite
spots, having frequented the latter no less than ten times.
She can be spotted with the President and their family at
all sorts of campus events and activities, from hockey games at Dayton
Arena to Sunday brunch at Thorne.
It's no surprise to learn of Mrs. Mills' admiration for
Bowdoin's unique undergraduate program. "I recently told Larry Summers
(the newly appointed President of Harvard and former U.S. Treasury Secretary)
how Bowdoin is all about the undergraduate experience," she remarks.
Mills, a graduate of both Harvard undergrad and the Harvard Business School,
serves on the university's Board of Overseers in Cambridge. While she
herself is demonstrative of the benefits of a Harvard education, Mrs.
Mills recognizes as one of Bowdoin's most unique and rewarding aspects
its emphasis on student-faculty interaction-something an institution such
as Harvard doesn't have.
Mrs. Blythe Edwards, the former first lady of Bowdoin, is
remembered for her contribution to campus architecture and design-but
don't expect any new buildings from Mrs. Mills just yet. "I want
to take this first year to get settled with the family, the boys, Barry,
and"-stated last again, always preceded by her family-"me,"
she says. "Blythe had a fantastic impact on Bowdoin. I hope to have
an impact in the future." How? A pause. A smile. "I am a good
gardener," she answers with a beautifully toothy grin.
Gardening and fruit juice aside, it is easy to see why Mrs.
Mills will inevitably make a positive and lasting impact on the Bowdoin
community. When she speaks about her life-her family, her job-it is clear
she is a woman of commitment.
Her words are delicately and gracefully chosen, not, it
seems, in an effort to appease the listener, but rather because she sincerely
cares about what she thinks and says. She has a gift of communication
that enables her to genuinely engage people with passion and concern.
There is a true beauty in the simplicity and clarity of her conversation.
But, alas, our little meeting has ended. We stand and shake
hands. Having mentioned that I saw her at Saturday's hockey game, she
asks me what I had thought. I tell her. And she stands there, smiling
and listening. We walk out, I holding my Mango Mama, she holding her Desperately
Seeking C. I smile a smile of my own, having seen and heard a little of
the ordinary in the very clearly extraordinary.