Two women in their 80s, one of whom was a pioneering educator who served in state college systems in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Ohio, were killed Wednesday in a car crash on Central Avenue in Needham after the vehicle slammed into a house, police said.
The victims were identified Wednesday night by the Norfolk district attorney’s office as Ann Segal, 89, and Claire Van Ummersen, 86, both of Needham.
Van Ummersen had served as interim chancellor of UMass Boston, senior academic and administrative officer with the Massachusetts Board of Regents of Higher Education, and chancellor of the University System of New Hampshire, and as the president of Cleveland State University in Ohio, among many other posts in a long career.
Police and fire personnel responded to a report of a 2009 BMW that was traveling down North Hill Avenue when it crossed Central Avenue and crashed into a house at 860 Central Ave. at about 10:20 a.m., according to the district attorney’s office.
The two women, who were passengers in the car, were taken to the hospital but “unfortunately did not survive the crash,” police said in a statement posted on the department’s Facebook page.
The driver, an 89-year-old Needham man, was taken to the hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening, police said.
No charges have been filed. The accident is under investigation by Needham police, the district attorney’s office, and State Police accident analysis and reconstruction experts.
Educators mourned Van Ummersen after learning of her sudden death.
The University System of New Hampshire said in a statement that “Dr. Van Ummersen was the first woman to serve as Chancellor and was a strong and vocal advocate for public higher education while she served as the USNH Chancellor from 1986 to 1992.”
From 1993 to 2001, Van Ummersen was president of Cleveland State University in Ohio, where there is a scholarship in her name.
“Dr. Van Ummersen was an outstanding academic leader who played a critical role in the development and growth of Cleveland State University,” the university’s current president, Harlan Sands, said in a statement. “We mourn her loss and offer our heartfelt condolences to her family.”
Van Ummersen began her half-century career as a biology teacher and researcher in 1963 and served in several roles with the American Council on Education from 2001 to 2016.
The council’s president, Ted Mitchell, said Van Ummersen’s loss “is terribly sad news for all of us at ACE and for the entire American higher education community where Claire shone so brightly for decades as a pioneering scientist, educator, and campus leader.”
“At ACE, she continued her groundbreaking path, focusing on issues such as expanding the pipeline of women leaders in higher education and improving the work-life balance on campuses nationwide,” Mitchell said in a statement. “Claire was a friend, colleague, and mentor to so many, and she changed so many lives for the better. She will be sorely missed but leaves a tremendous legacy of grace, wisdom, and accomplishment.”
Mildred Garcia, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said in a statement that Van Ummersen was “a trailblazer in higher education.”
“Claire ... became the first woman to lead Cleveland State University in the early ‘90s when very few women served as college presidents,” Garcia said. “She was also a tireless advocate for women in postsecondary education on a national scale through her years at the American Council on Education. Claire stood tall among giants in academia. She leaves a lasting legacy.”
Patti Phillips, chief executive of Women Leaders in College Sports, said Van Ummersen’s “passionate advocacy for leadership enhancement for women in athletics and higher education altered the landscape for women in our industry.”
The organization named a leadership award for Van Ummersen, which is given to a top higher ed administrator that promotes opportunities for women in college sports, the statement said.
“We have lost a powerful pioneer and guiding light for women’s advancement in higher education,” Phillips said.
In a 1989 interview with the Globe, Van Ummersen discussed being a mentor to other women trying to build careers in higher education.
“I serve as a referee for them, as a person they can talk to for advice and counsel,” she said . “I try to keep my eye open for jobs that might be coming available that might be of value or interest to them. … It’s a very important role and a very necessary one.”
Van Ummersen was also candid about her views on the differences between men and women who lead colleges.
“I think men are much more concerned with playing the game than doing the job,” she said. “Women are just more matter-of-fact about getting the job done. Men assign people to study the problem, and then everyone gets together to discuss it. Women tend to look more for the solutions.”