September 8, 2003

Planting, reception wish Chaces well

Michael Terrazas

In an understated ceremony with a flavor more akin to a county fair than a presidential sendoff, the Emory community bid adieu to the Bill Chace presidency Aug. 29 with the most fitting of tributes: a tree planting.

By 2:30 p.m., a crowd of about a hundred had gathered on the Quadrangle in front of Bowden Hall, where last spring a venerable tree that had fallen ill was euthanized. In its place stood what could become known as “The Chace Oak,” a young nuttall oak waiting for its nest of dirt. University Secretary Gary Hauk stepped to the microphone and welcomed those in attendance, adding the planting was appropriate not only to commemorate the Chace administration but to celebrate the work of JoAn Chace in protecting the Emory environment.

“In recognition of the remarkable and invigorating presence JoAn has been on campus, and her guiding spirit in protecting the Emory forest, this lovely oak tree replaces the tree that passed away last spring,” Hauk said before he introduced John Wegner—Emory’s new “CEO”: chief environmental officer—to speak more about the Chaces.

“I represent all the trees who can’t come to the meeting,” Wegner said of his new job, to which he was appointed by Chace in May. “President and Mrs. Chace, I speak not only on behalf of the humans but on behalf of all the organisms on campus. Your simple leadership has allowed this community to do a lot of good things.”

Wegner ran down a list of the University’s environmental initiatives during the Chace presidency, from the formulation and adoption of the Campus Master Plan and Lullwater Management Plan; to establishing flourishing programs in alternative transportation, recycling and “green” purchasing; to creating the Department of Environmental Studies; to developing the Environmental Mission Statement that led to Wegner’s very appointment. JoAn Chace helped found the Friends of Emory Forest and also participated in a number of environmental groups on campus, Wegner added.

“I’ll leave you with a quote about the true meaning of life,” he said. “The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”

Hauk read the poem, “Advice From a Tree,” by Ilan Shamir, then presented the Chaces with their own commemorative yellow plastic cups, which also were available for everyone in attendance. Along with the date of the ceremony, the cups bore a pair of Celtic tidings—Mait Deanam (“Well done”) and Slán Abaile “Safe homeward”)—to bid the Chaces well as they prepare to spend a sabbatical year in Connecticut before returning to the English faculty for 2004–05.

“I’ve never, in fact, hugged a tree before,” JoAn Chace said, “but I’m tempted to hug this one.”

Her husband spoke of the Emory community’s role in what was accomplished during his tenure.

“The pronoun that is right here is ‘we,’” Bill Chace added. “We did a lot of things in the last decade, and we did them together.”

Chace then quipped that, when he heard where the ceremony would take place, he was certain the occasion was for a stump removal. “Which,” he said, “in a certain way is appropriate.”

The Chaces grabbed a shovel each and deposited the first sprinklings of dirt onto the tree planted in their honor, then invited everyone in the crowd to do the same. Five minutes later, a small mountain of dirt surrounded the tree on every side. Jimmy Powell, superintendent of roads and grounds for Facilities Management, said the nuttall oak was selected for its ability to grow well in acid soils (like Georgia clay); at maturity it will reach a height of some 80 feet with a spread of 50 feet, and Powell said the tree should reach a “substantial size” within five to seven years.

Following the planting, the Chaces received individual well wishes at a tent reception held in front of Pitts Library. Ice cream carts and Coke stands dotted the Quadrangle, and the band Moira Bridget Nelligan entertained the crowd with Irish music. Attendees were invited to a table to write notes to the Chaces on white index cards, and by the time the reception concluded, the nearby basket was full of the cards, bearing personalized sentiments to Emory’s 18th president and his wife.