Lynn Coleman, 54; nurtured student life at Regis College

By Michael Corcoran
Globe Correspondent / May 17, 2010

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A few months after Lynn Tripp Coleman was named vice president of student affairs at Regis College, she was diagnosed with cancer.

Mrs. Coleman, friends and colleagues said, accepted the news with courage. Even when the cancer spread through her body, she continued to do what she loved: work on behalf of students at Regis College, to whom she dedicated most of her adult life.

“Lynn was an educator to the fingertips,’’ said Regis College’s president, Mary Jane England, of her colleague, who died Tuesday at her Regis campus home after a six-year battle with cancer. She was 54.

“She never stopped going to work. She went to work on Friday’’ in the week before she died, said her father, Robert Tripp of Dartmouth. He noted that in July, doctors told her she had between two weeks and two months to live, but she lived well past expectations.

Mrs. Coleman, who spent most of her childhood in Dartmouth and New Bedford, graduated from Dartmouth High School in 1973. She was writing a newspaper column for the Dartmouth Chronicle at age 17, her father said.

Throughout her career, she was most passionate about student services, an interest she developed as a student at Regis, where she graduated in 1977 with a degree in social work.

She then worked at Mount Ida College as resident director from 1977 to 1978. She started her career at Regis in the fall of 1978, when she was hired as resident director. She quickly immersed herself in the campus community, working in various roles at the Weston Catholic college, including assistant to the dean of students from 1980 to 1983 and assistant dean of students from 1983 to 1986, before rising to dean of students in 1986.

She was the first and only person to serve as the vice president of student affairs, a job created in 2004.

“She lived on campus for much of her career, which is one of the reasons we are feeling the loss so intimately,’’ said M.J. Doherty, special assistant to the president at Regis College. “Regis was really her home.’’

Her role as a resident assistant while attending the college prompted her to focus on serving students as a career. Colleagues say her mentor was Sister Therese Higgins, a former president of Regis College who died in February.

“For 32 years, Lynn Coleman has graced student affairs at Regis College with intelligence, sensitivity, empathy, and strategic direction-setting,’’ England said in a statement to the campus. “By example she taught this campus how to express Catholic teachings on the importance of the human person in the style of the Sisters of St. Joseph who were her teachers, that is, with ‘excellence tempered by gentleness.’ ’’

After graduation Mrs. Coleman married her high school sweetheart, Randy Coleman, of East Sandwich, her family said. The marriage ended in divorce.

She received a master’s degree in higher education administration from Suffolk University in 1988.

Her co-workers said she reflected the ideals promoted by the school. “Lynn taught us how to live and how to die with courage and with class,’’ said Sister Rosemary Mulvihill, director of campus ministry and a friend.

Kara Kolomitz, the dean of students, said Mrs. Coleman “modeled grace and dedication to the utmost, and her love for Regis inspired students to love Regis, too . . . in her quiet and strong way, Lynn could always make her points eminently clear. Professionally, she has been a wonderful mentor and friend to me, and I shall miss her terribly,’’ she said.

Mrs. Coleman helped the school move from generation to generation, quickly adapting to the needs of the student body she was serving, said Joan Desmond Sullivan, director of human resources and a student at Regis when Mrs. Coleman was hired. “Under Lynn’s guidance, Regis College students experienced through Student Life programming what it means to be a ‘Regis woman’ or a ‘Regis man.’ ’’

Her sister Carol Tripp Tebo spent every weekend with Mrs. Coleman for the last five years and was her live-in caretaker at her residence at Regis for the final month of her life. She said students valued her presence on campus and would regularly visit her. “They looked up to her, sometimes as a second mom,’’ she said. “They viewed her as an inspiration and leader.’’

“She just loved each class for itself, and that freed her to develop the avenues of relationship and connection that would best help that group realize its potential at Regis,’’ England said.

Mrs. Coleman was on the college’s senior leadership team, the administrative council, and in 2006-2007, she oversaw the college’s 80th anniversary celebration, college officials said.

To honor her contributions, the school created the Lynn Tripp Coleman Grace and Dedication Distinction. “She stayed alive for the first one; she picked the student winner out,’’ her father said. The first award went to Elizabeth Lawlor, class of 2012, a student majoring in nursing, a resident assistant, and orientation leader.

Mrs. Coleman also was deeply committed to her family, Tebo said. “Family was everything to her,’’ Tebo said. “She used to have 50 to 60 family members over at a time . . . and she adored her two goddaughters.’’

In addition to her father and sister, she leaves her mother, Angela Tripp of Dartmouth. The funeral and burial will be held today at 10 a.m. at St. Julie Billiart Church in North Dartmouth. The funeral liturgy will be celebrated by the Regis College chaplain, the Rev. Paul Kilroy.