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Margaret ‘Peg’ Healy, former president of Rosemont College, dies at 87

Her decades-long career in higher education also included stints as a philosophy professor, academic dean, treasurer, and trustee at several universities.

Margaret M. Healy, former president of Rosemont College.
Margaret M. Healy, former president of Rosemont College.Read moreCourtesy Pat McPherson

Margaret M. Healy, 87, a former president of Rosemont College whose decades-long career in higher education also included stints as a philosophy professor, academic dean, treasurer, and trustee at several universities, died Thursday, Nov. 11, of brain cancer, at Dunwoody Village rehab center in Newtown Square.

Widely known as “Peg,” Ms. Healy was credited with increasing Rosemont’s endowment fivefold during her six-year tenure as president, from 1995 to 2001. She also expanded the institution’s academic offerings, the college said, and oversaw renovations to facilities including the historic Joseph Sinnott Mansion, a 19th-century, chateau-style building that houses many key administrative offices.

She was unfailingly kind to her many friends, and had a broad array of interests — once serving as a board chair for Project HOME, a Philadelphia nonprofit that aids people experiencing homelessness; routinely hosting celebrations at her Bryn Mawr home for Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day; and frequently traveling abroad, including to Ireland, from which her parents emigrated and where she had many relatives.

“She was just a great lady,” said Pat McPherson, the former president of Bryn Mawr College and a friend of Ms. Healy’s for 60 years. McPherson and Ms. Healy traveled together in Europe as philosophy students in the 1960s, never suspecting that they would one day each end up leading colleges separated by just one mile.

Catherine Lafarge, an emeritus French professor at Bryn Mawr College, said that she used to invite Ms. Healy on trips to France, and that she was a great travel companion interested in absorbing the art, culture, and history of places she was visiting.

“She had a big heart, really — a huge heart,” Lafarge said.

Ms. Healy was born in Chicago, one of three sisters. She later graduated from Rosary College — just west of Chicago — with degrees in philosophy and mathematics. She was a Fulbright Scholar in Belgium, where she earned another philosophy degree. And she later earned a master’s in philosophy from St. John’s University, and a philosophy doctorate from Bryn Mawr College.

She joined Rosemont’s faculty in 1964, and also served as an academic dean. But in 1976, Harris Wofford, then the president of Bryn Mawr College, lured her away to study the school’s finances. As legend has it, McPherson said, Wofford was impressed by Ms. Healy’s ability to balance her checkbook, which he was never able to do himself. Ms. Healy also brought a unique perspective for a philosopher, McPherson said, because she’d studied mathematics as an undergraduate.

“She was always able to manage financial issues in a way that most philosophy Ph.Ds could not have,” said McPherson.

Ms. Healy spent 19 years at Bryn Mawr, eventually becoming treasurer. McPherson said she also displayed her humanity and warmth in that role. When a staff member once asked whether the college could lend her daughter tuition money, Ms. Healy is said to have replied by pulling out her checkbook and saying: “The college doesn’t do that. But I do.”

In 1995, Ms. Healy became interim president of Rosemont College. She was given the job full time a year later.

Throughout her career, she also served as a trustee at several universities, including Villanova, and served on the boards of a number of higher education organizations and civic institutions.

Friends are likely to recall her as much for hosting large dinner parties at her home, and for her love of travel, music, and her dogs, whom she named after philosophers, such as Thomas, for Thomas Aquinas, and Carter, for René Descartes.

Ms. Healy is survived by one of her sisters and other relatives. Her other sister died earlier.

Her funeral service will be held at the Rosemont College Chapel on Dec. 15 at 11 a.m.

Donations may be made to Project HOME, 1515 Fairmont Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19130,