In his 22 years as head of Gonzaga University, the Rev. Bernard Coughlin gained a reputation for sharing his accomplishments with others.
Now that he’s wrapping up his last year as president, Coughlin finds himself the center of attention.
On Wednesday, students and faculty members sponsored a thank-you program and barbecue, and several hundred well-wishers turned out at the Martin Centre pavilion for the event.
“Wow,” Coughlin said, his chin trembling slightly at the microphone, his eyes misty from emotion.
An 8-foot-tall thank-you card stood behind him bearing hundreds of inscriptions from the people who worked and studied under him.
“I’m very touched, and I’m very grateful,” he said.
Students raised money and bought a touring bicycle for Coughlin, who recently said he wanted to go back to Europe and see the sights from the seat of a bike.
He jumped on the gift and pedaled around the pavilion floor.
Coughlin, 73, is leaving the job of university president to become the first chancellor in Gonzaga history. The change in jobs is expected to give Coughlin more leisure time, while the university retains his wisdom and experience.
A presidential search committee, formed last fall, is narrowing a list of candidates to replace him, and the committee hopes to make a recommendation to the university board later this year.
As a Jesuit university, the committee must find a Jesuit priest to replace Coughlin, himself a Jesuit.
Dale Goodwin, university spokesman and a member of the search committee, said several qualified candidates have been found and interviews are being arranged, but none of the names is being made public now.
As graduation approaches May 11-12, the people who’ve worked with Coughlin are arranging a series of events to honor him, including a community tribute at noon on May 23 at the Ag Trade Center. Tickets for the tribute are available through Gonzaga at 324-5995.
At Wednesday’s event, students and staff praised Coughlin for his willingness to listen to them, but also for his decisiveness as a leader and insistence on keeping Gonzaga apace with changes in technology.
“The concerns of students are always on his mind, and his door is always open to students,” said Mark Stackle, outgoing student body president.
Stackle pointed out that enrollment increased by 50 percent to nearly 5,000 students, and the endowment fund went from $1.6 million to $50 million under Coughlin’s leadership. Several new campus buildings were erected.
Staff members produced an 11-minute video with praise from people who worked the closest to Coughlin over the years, including top community leaders and university officials.
Coughlin appeared chagrined at the attention, but he was clearly touched by the outpouring of sentiment.
He said the kind words from those at home, a family-like reference to the university, mean the most to him.
“They have been wonderful years,” he said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo