Reflecting on 24 years as vice president of student affairs at Boston College, Kevin Duffy said that although his job description evolved, the core mission remained the same.
“I think my chief role has stayed constant: to constantly remind people that students are our priority, and to help those students have the best experience possible here,” he told the Boston College Chronicle in 2000, when he stepped down from the post.
Dr. Duffy, who finished his Boston College career as an assistant professor and director of internships in the Lynch School of Education’s higher education graduate program, died Dec. 4 in Tufts Medical Center of complications after a fall. He was 70 and lived in Foxborough.
Even when his health failed and he began to lose his eyesight, Dr. Duffy remained devoted to students until he retired in 2008, and he formed relationships with some that lasted beyond graduation, said his wife, Persis Rickes.
When he was hospitalized, Rickes recalled, she read aloud every student’s final paper. He dictated comments and a grade for each one.
“Kevin Duffy has devoted his professional life to Boston College, and he has served this institution, especially our students, in such a dedicated, generous way,” the Rev. William P. Leahy, BC’s president, told the Chronicle in 2000. “His impact since 1968 has been immense, and all of us owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude.”
Bernard O’Kane, who served under Dr. Duffy as administrative officer and now directs employee development at Boston College, said in a statement that Dr. Duffy was always generous “with his time, resources, and spirit.”
“He was a mentor to me and to many younger administrators,” O’Kane said.
He added that among Dr. Duffy’s “favorite phrases was ‘university citizen,’ which referred to someone he admired at BC who took responsibility for things far beyond his or her role. Kevin was truly a university citizen.”
Dr. Duffy served in leadership capacities with local and national organizations, including the college housing administrators association in Boston and the Jesuit Association of Student Personnel Administrators, which gave him its Yanitelli Award for outstanding service in student life for Jesuit higher education.
In 2003, the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators named Dr. Duffy a Pillar of the Profession and honored him for providing outstanding service and support to graduate students and new professionals.
Boston College presented Dr. Duffy with the St. Ignatius of Loyola Award for a career of service to Jesuit higher education, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Award for advocacy on behalf of students of color.
The college also credited Dr. Duffy with reviving its Fulton Debate Society. When he retired from the student affairs post, the society named a debate excellence award after him.
“Kevin always had a great understanding of, and an enthusiasm for, the role of student affairs in the lives of the students and in the university,” Margaret Dwyer, a former vice president of Boston College, said in the statement. “He was devoted to the Jesuit ideal of the education of the whole student.”
‘Kevin always had a great understanding of, and an enthusiasm for, the role of student affairs in the lives of the students and in the university. He was devoted to the Jesuit ideal of the education of the whole student.’
Compassionate and funny, Dr. Duffy also “had an incredible sense of humor,” Rickes said. “He could find humor in anything.”
They have been married since 1997.
Kevin Peter Duffy was born in New York City, where he attended Cathedral College, graduating in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. He enrolled at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception on Long Island, N.Y., and studied for two years before deciding not to pursue the priesthood.
Dr. Duffy married Judith E. Smith in 1968. Their marriage ended in divorce.
Also in 1968, he graduated from Fordham University in New York City with a master’s in counseling psychology. He later received a doctorate in higher education administration from Boston College.
During his master’s studies, Dr. Duffy taught speech, history, and Latin at Monsignor McClancy Memorial High School in the East Elmhurst section of Queens, N.Y.
Boston College hired Dr. Duffy as director of student services and promoted him to housing director. He was appointed vice president for student affairs in 1976.
As an administrator, he helped establish offices including university housing, university health and medical services, the career center, and counseling services. During his tenure, Boston College was evolving from its earlier identity as a commuter school.
“When we discuss the Boston College experience, we talk about ‘total education inside and outside of the classroom,’ ” Dr. Duffy told the Boston College Chronicle in 1996.
“That has been a priority for us as we have pursued the goal of becoming a truly national, residential Catholic university,” he said. “How can we help students get the most out of their time at BC? What can we do in our residence halls? What kinds of activities or assistance — personal, spiritual, academic — can we offer?”
His son, Mark of North Attleborough, said Dr. Duffy gave sage advice.
“He always would listen to the whole story first and then give you a well-crafted answer,” Mark said.
A service has been held for Dr. Duffy, who in addition to his wife and son leaves two brothers, Bernard of Queens, and Brendan of Farmingdale, N.Y.; and three grandchildren.
“If there’s one consistent quality I’ve seen in BC students, it is their sense of camaraderie,” Dr. Duffy told the Chronicle in 2000. “They are bright, upbeat people, who seem genuinely happy to be here, and I have felt fortunate to be around them.”
Dr. Duffy spent as much time as possible among students, his family said. He held season tickets for football and basketball and proudly donned Boston College gear for games. When traveling, he wore a BC hat in hope of striking up a conversation with someone with a connection to the university.
“Even after his retirement he never really left, because it was him,” his son said.Katherine Landergan
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