Molly Dobson, CEW Emerita Leadership Council Member, Receives U-M Honorary Degree

Molly Dobson, long-time CEW Leadership Council member, supporter and friend, was awarded a U-M Honorary Doctor of Laws degree at Winter Commencement on Dec. 16th at Crisler Arena. Molly’s life-long support of education and gender equity has helped many to change the direction of their lives. Her vision and her spirit have inspired others to act, and to do more.

To celebrate the award of Molly’s Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree, CEW held a congratulatory luncheon for Molly this week where she shared her remarks from the Commencement celebration with the group. The following is a transcript of her comments from the dinner prior to commencement, and from her remarks at our celebratory luncheon:

Thank you, President Coleman, for this truly meaningful honor. As for all you honorees, distinguished guests, precious friends and family members, it’s a pleasure to be in your midst and celebrating this very special campus event. As a volunteer and philanthropist, it’s flattering to be included in this illustrious “gang of six.”

Turning back the pages, it’s difficult to pinpoint my initial inspiration for leading a life of service. But thinking it over, the blue ribbon goes to my father.

Picture this. The year is 1944. The United States is at war in Europe and in the Pacific. The month is February. It’s my 21st birthday and my parents have stopped by my campus residence for hugs and chatter and gift-giving. In the course of the conversation, my father asks, “Sis, your graduation is less than four months away. What do you plan on doing once you get your diploma?” Believe it or not, I really hadn’t given it much thought. In college, I had the luxury of majoring in English Literature and minoring in History and Art and gave little thought to how I might put this knowledge to work.

Quite frankly, the majority of coeds on campus were yearning for a life of normalcy. Of leaving this long-lasting upheaval far far behind. On many a female mind were thoughts of marriage and nesting. In the 30s and 40s, there was no such thing as a mission statement or a 5-year plan. We had survived the Depression and were now deeply immersed in the hardships and heart breaks of WW II.

Time to answer my father’s question. “I guess maybe I’ll look for a job as a stewardess.” His answer, “Do you think that’s doing enough for your country?” No doubt about it, that was an “aha” moment in MY life. Life was not about me. Life was about SERVICE. Service to country. Service to others. It was time for me to abandon my childish ways and see what I could do for my country and my fellow men and women.

So what did I do? First, I enlisted in the Navy where I served as a communications officer in Washington, D.C.. When my fiance returned to the states from destroyer duty in the Pacific, along came wedding vows and soon thereafter, motherhood.

Nevertheless, my focus on SERVICE to others has all but dominated my life for more than 65 years. I have served on countless boards and committees in a myriad of ways. As my focus on service grew, the importance of stepping up and being a donor evolved.

When it comes to philanthropy, I can pinpoint two “aha” moments. The first involved a campaign telephone call from a University student asking to speak to my husband. In that Bill wasn’t home, I asked if I could take a message and was told that the caller was participating in a U-M campaign and wanted to talk to Bill about making a gift. I replied, “Why don’t you just talk to me about making a gift?” He was speechless and I realized for the first time how rare it was for women to be considered potential donors.

Aha moment #2 surfaced when a friend asked me if I would contribute to a piece of sculpture to be installed in front of the UMMA. After considerable agonizing, I said I’d give $1,000. She replied, “Molly, if you can see your way clear to parting with $1,000 this year, how about pledging the same amount for two additional years? $3,000 would go much further in helping us reach goal.” I agreed. That 3-year pledge became my first significant gift! I was elated to be a participant in an appealing campus project.

Fast forward to tonight, December 15, 2012. I can’t begin to tell you the rewards I’ve reaped from being a volunteer and philanthropist. First of all, it’s FRIENDS. Secondly, it’s the opportunity to be deeply immersed in my community and my alma mater. And lastly, the warm satisfaction of truly making a difference. Tomorrow, it’s the privilege of being granted a U-M Honorary Doctor of Laws degree, thanks to CEW’s influence. Talk about frosting on the cake!

Lastly, fast forward to today, January 16th, 2013. Please know what a pleasure it is to share this super-special CEW/Paesano luncheon with each and every one of you. You, dear friends, are likewise the frosting on my cake! Thank you for being here today to celebrate with me.


Molly’s influence in the community is deep. She served as honorary co-chair of the Ann Arbor City Club’s recent capital campaign, and has raised funds for the Humane Society, the Ann Arbor YMCA and the United Way of Washtenaw County. She was an early supporter of the Ann Arbor Teen Center and, as former president of the Lucile B. Conger Alumnae Group in the mid-60’s, formed an early relationship with CEW that is ongoing today. In addition to serving on CEW's Leadership Council for many years, Molly established the Molly Dobson Scholarship awarded through CEW's Scholarship Program. She received the 2006 U-M David B. Hermelin Award for Fundraising Volunteer Leadership and in 2007, received a Community Foundation Award for Philanthropy. Molly also served on the Michigan Difference Campaign as a member of its Washtenaw County Committee. Most recently she helped fund the award-winning Development Summer internship Program at U-M to prepare students for careers in fundraising.