BRUNSWICK — The Brunswick Downtown Association honored departing Bowdoin College President Barry Mills, and his wife, Karen Mills, Thursday with a breakfast and community tribute at the Brunswick Hotel and Tavern.
The Mills moved to Brunswick in 2001, and their 14-year engagement with the town was lauded by several speakers.
“Their three boys went to school in Brunswick,” U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said in a pre-recorded video. “That’s an expression of confidence in the community that people have noticed.”
King, a longtime Brunswick resident, recalled working with the Mills in the snack shack at high school sports games, and recognized them for “(having) done a tremendous amount to cement the linkage between the college and the community.”
Others also spoke of the Mills’ patronage of Brunswick’s cuisine.
Owners of the Mister Bagel shop thanked the couple for their support, saying, “you eat lots and lots of bagels,” in a montage video.
Food aside, the majority of the tribute to the Mills focused on their support of philanthropy and Brunswick institutions.
Lennie Burke, who spoke on behalf of United Way of Mid Coast Maine, thanked the Mills for fostering a “two-way street between town and gown. … United Way, when times were tough, were able to say we always have Bowdoin.”
Burke said the estimated value of Bowdoin student volunteerism for the organization was about half a million dollars.
“(Mills) led a culture of commitment to the common good,” she said.
Town Council Chairwoman Sarah Brayman said Mills had “set the tone” in the relationship between the college and town.
“Under Mills’ leadership, the college has vastly improved its outreach to the (community),” she said.
Brayman noted that during the recession of 2008, the college did not lay off any staff. “That made a big difference for local folks,” she said. “Your legacy will live far beyond these 15 years.”
At the end of the speeches, the BDA presented the Mills with the gift of a historical sketching of the town.
From the start, “the community welcomed us and embraced us,” Karen Mills said.
“(Moving to) Brunswick was the best thing that ever happened to Barry and to me,” she said.
Mills said that calling Brunswick home helped her when she led the U.S. Small Business Administration from 2009-2013.
She spoke of how during meetings in the White House after the recession, she’d bring stories of small businesses to the table as an example of how the economy was recovering.
“When (others) asked me how I knew (these things), I’d say I go down to Maine Street, and I ask how’s business, and I find out.”
“That’s Maine Street with an ‘e,'” she added.
In his remarks, Barry Mills said “Bowdoin is a college town in a real town.”
“We are who we are because we’re in Brunswick, Maine,” he said.
He said his sons would always call Brunswick home, and the schools were a big reason for that.
He stressed that going forward, supporting the local public schools should be “our highest priority.”
“It’s now in the bones of the (college) to work in conjunction with the town,” he said.
Mills is stepping down as Bowdoin’s president at the end of the academic year. He announced his departure in April 2014.
Mills does not intend to retire and will seek another “professional challenge,” according to a Bowdoin College press release. “We are all hopeful that Barry will find a job,” Sen. King joked in his message.
Clayton Rose, of Brookline, Massachusetts, will become the fifteenth president of the college in July.
Both Barry and Karen Mills said they are keeping their house in Cundy’s Harbor, and would be returning regularly.
“You’ll still see us out on Maine Street,” Barry Mills said. “Just maybe not as prominently as you used to.”
BDA Chairwoman Dee Perry presents a gift to Barry and Karen Mills.