Emory Report
February 18, 2008
Volume 60, Number 20

Submit your tribute to
Eleanor Main to nancy.seideman@emory.edu.

Please include your name and title for the online posting.  

Emory Report homepage  

February 18, 2008
Remembering Eleanor Main: A ‘passionate champion’

By Rosemary Hynes

Eleanor C. Main lived a democratic life. A passionate champion of Democratic Party candidates and causes, her commitment to democratic values extended beyond partisan politics to everyday interactions with students, neighbors, colleagues, and staff. Her wit was sharp and quick, but no one responded to someone in need faster or more effectively than Eleanor.

Eleanor was born in Queens, N.Y. in 1942. She graduated from Hunter College of the City of New York and earned a Ph.D. in political science from the University of North Carolina. After brief stints as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas-Austin and as an assistant professor of political science at the University of Connecticut, Storrs.

Eleanor joined the Emory faculty in 1969. She served as department chair (political science), division director (educational studies), associate dean (Emory Graduate School and Emory College), and associate vice provost for graduate studies, in addition to serving on and leading numerous university committees and assuming interim deanships in the Graduate School and College.

In both her scholarship and her avocation, Eleanor’s reach extended beyond the campus community to include involve-ment in state government. Three different governors (Busbee, Harris and Miller) appointed her to task forces or commissions, including the Governor’s Committee on Women in Politics (1975), Governor’s Committee on Effectiveness and Economy in Government (1991–92), and the Department of Juvenile Justice Board (1992–03). She was a founding member of the Georgia Women’s Political Action Caucus (1980).

She believed passionately in each individual’s responsibility to contribute positively to the community. Among her proudest accomplishments early in her Emory career was development of a political science internship program which placed undergraduates in positions at the state house Legislature. More recently, she was an enthusiastic promoter of Challenge and Champions, a summer camp program for metro Atlanta middle school students, a third of whom live in local homeless shelters.

The family asks that in lieu of flowers (which always made Eleanor sneeze), contributions be made to Challenge and Champions (www.challengeandchampions.org) at Emory.

Rosemary Hynes, assistant dean, Graduate School, has been a friend and colleague of Eleanor’s for 15 years. Rosemary joined the Graduate School staff when Eleanor was acting dean.

Tributes to Eleanor Main
“Like all of us who were so profoundly touched by Eleanor Main there is a
vacant place in my heart that only time will heal and memories will fill.

As we slowly move to that point in time I am reminded that Eleanor
exemplified the very best that this institution has to offer: an unflinching
love and commitment to the place, its people and values; a belief that the
future, with hard work and bold action, would be better than the past; and
a caring, yet, honest, realism.

Over more than three decades Eleanor was a leader, whether as scholar,
teacher, administrator or mentor. The mark of a leader is that they made
the place better.  Because of her Emory is better and because of her we are
better, too.

Eleanor, thank you for your easy laugh, generous heart, profound leadership,
and love of this place called Emory.”

-Earl Lewis, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs
Emory University

“Eleanor's was a bold spirit with a deep understanding of both faculty culture and of administrative capabilities and limitations.  She was uninhibited about challenging Emory's leadership to be and do better.  Her to-the-point and sometimes stern e-mail missives were always about Emory; never about her.  May her memory of her thoughtful and loyal spirit long linger at Emory.”

-Jim Wagner, President, Emory University

“There is of course so much to say about Eleanor, but among the things I like to say is that Eleanor Main led with a courageous mind, a compassionate heart, and a passion for honesty and integrity, beyond all I have known. A person always knew where they stood with her, and you didn’t want to be on the biting end of her tongue, but her capacity for kindness was limitless.”
-Virginia Shadron, Ph.D., Assistant Dean, Student Progress and Special Programs
Graduate School, Emory University

 “Eleanor Main and I worked closely together for over two decades. Beyond her many public accomplishments and contributions, it’s worth remembering another more private side of Eleanor.

Eleanor was a gift giver. Women all across this campus proudly wear beautiful scarves that she selected for us. I keep a scarf she gave me draped across my office chair. It’s a colorful burst of floral pink, suggesting our shared commitment to feminism and femininity. As I dress for work most days, I look through my collection of scarves. Each time I wear one that Eleanor gave me, I consider all of the gifts that Eleanor brought to this great university.

Eleanor was a natural and generous mentor. Not only did she mentor me and many, many colleagues, she also demonstrated a deep and abiding interest in young people. She showed such an interest in my daughter, from when she was just a little girl, advising her throughout her grade school, high school, and college days; they shared a love of the political process. Eleanor recommended that she take a year after college to work in the 2004 elections in Iowa. Now, that daughter is a Ph.D. student—like so many others mentored in 40 years of Eleanor’s commitment to academic life.

More than anything else, Eleanor knew how to be a friend. She did not take such friendships lightly. Checking up on people, expressing concern for their welfare, she never hesitated to state her opinion or give advice.  She could see most issues from every angle. Her opinions were not always the popular ones, but she didn’t back down from expressing them. Her ideas were insightful and usually right. I learned to ask for her advice frequently—and to take it.

In these ways and many more, Eleanor was a friend to me and to the entire university. I wear with pride the scarves she gave to me. Through them I will always remember: friendship was Eleanor’s true gift.”

-Rosemary Magee, Vice President and Secretary of the University, Emory University

“For over 30 years, Eleanor Main has been my respected colleague, mentor, and dear friend.  When I was Director of Educational Studies and she was an administrator in the College Office and the Graduate School, she "taught me the ropes," solved numerous problems, supported me, and advocated for Educational Studies.  When she left the Graduate School, the Division of Educational Studies was fortunate that she accepted our invitation to become our Director. For the past seven years she has been a champion for individual staff members, students, and faculty.  There is no one as caring, generous, and supportive--particularly in a time of need.  She led us, she comforted us, and moved mountains to take care of our pains. We will miss her dearly.” 

-Carole Hahn, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Educational Studies, Division of Educational Studies,
Emory University

“I knew Eleanor Main for almost four decades. During that time I witnessed her dedicated service to Emory as a teacher and scholar, and especially as an extraordinarily creative and adept administrator.  More importantly, I have never known a more loyal, steadfast, and caring friend.”
-Tom Walker, Goodrich C. White Professor of Political Science, Department of Political Science, Emory University

“I came to Emory in 1983 as one of several chairs recruited by Dean David Minter as part of the effort to transform Emory College after the Woodruff gift.  Eleanor Main had been serving as acting department chair through a difficult and conflictual period with the dean.  The appointment of chairs from outside is always a risky proposition made even more so by the on-going transition and conflicts at Emory.  Eleanor demonstrating her great commitment to the institution quickly became an advisor and friend.

She knew where all the administrative and political landmines were in Emory College and while I often thought that she saw more landmines than actually were present, I never stepped on a landmine by following her advice but tripped quite a few when acting without her help.  

Through all the ups and downs of those initial years and up to her passing Eleanor epitomized to me the highest virtues of friendship.  She cared enough about me to tell me the truth, even if I might not want to hear it. This is a rare and valuable quality and one that I and Emory will miss.”

-Micheal Giles, Goodrich C. White Professor of Political Science, Department of Political Science, Emory University

“I always felt privileged to be Eleanor's friend and learned so much from her over the years. Last year when the Women in Leadership Committee of the President's Commission on the Status of Women was hosting a dinner, we were asked to bring our mentors or mentorees. I asked Eleanor to come as my mentor. She said, "I'd prefer if we introduce ourselves as a mentor-mentoree combination. We learn a lot from each other." It was a metaphor for her abounding generous spirit. I felt very honored.”

Another anecdote:
“Eleanor went with me to pick out and test drive my 1996 Volvo. Once I made up my mind, she said, “Let’s give HER a name, a powerful name — a woman’s name, of course.” Now, I had always named my cars and had given them women’s names, but it was a private ritual that I never told anyone about. I was so surprised when Eleanor suggested this. She said, “Let call her Ursula.” To this day she’s Ursula and I shall always remember that Eleanor named her all those years ago.”

-Ali P. Crown,'85C, Director, Center for Women at Emory, Emory University

“There is of  course so much to say about Eleanor, but among the things I like to say is that Eleanor Main led with a courageous mind, a compassionate heart, and a passion for honesty and integrity, beyond all I have known. A person always knew where they stood with her, and you didn’t want to be on the biting end of her tough, but and her capacity for kindness was limitless.”
-Virginia Shadron, Ph.D., Assistant Dean, Student Progress and Special Programs, Graduate School
Emory University
“The word Eleanor used to describe those she held in highest esteem was "special." That description applies a thousand times over to Eleanor herself.  She was special, irreplaceably special.  Her grace, wit, wisdom, courage and insight will be sorely missed but we are so grateful for the many gifts she gave us.  She left us with the obligation to share those gifts with others.  We love you Eleanor and we miss you so much.”
-George H. Jones, Goodrich C. White Professor of Biology and Chair, Department of Biology, Emory University
“For many of us who came to Emory as junior faculty members, Eleanor epitomized the soul and spirit of Emory.  She cared deeply for this place and worked tirelessly  and selflessly for the arts and sciences.  Her institutional memory (she knew everyone and remembered everything) and her inimitable sense of style (no one wears scarves better or with more flair than Eleanor did) made her legendary.  A mentor to women faculty, she helped us adjust to the Emory culture and then helped us understand our responsibilities to those who came after us.  Hers was one of the voices we heard as we worked to understand what it meant to be an Emory faculty member.   She was a mentor, guide, and generous friend to several generations of women faculty at Emory.  In losing Eleanor, we have lost a piece of Emory’s heart.”

-Cris M. Levenduski, Senior Associate Dean for Faculty, Emory College, Emory University