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Governor Maggie Hassan, recipient of the 2016 Robert C. Wood Visiting Professorship in Public and Urban Affairs
 Image by: Harry Brett
April 14, 2016

N.H. Governor Hassan In Wood Lecture: ‘In Democracy, Everyone Counts’


  • Boston
"First and foremost in those core values was that in a democracy, everybody counts."

Maggie Wood Hassan Daughter of Former UMass President Robert Coldwell Wood

New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan visited campus Wednesday to deliver the McCormack Graduate School’s annual Robert C. Wood Lecture of Public and Urban Affairs.

The speaking series, established in 1998, is named for Hassan’s father, Robert Coldwell Wood, who served as UMass president and as undersecretary of housing and urban development. Wood served as a senior fellow at the McCormack Institute late in his career.

“My father’s life wasn’t just dedicated to trying to bring change to some of our nation’s most vulnerable and neglected places,” Hassan said. “His life story was a testament to the very notion that change is possible – that a boy raised in the segregated south can grow up to transcend the culture which he was born, not only fighting in the Battle of the Bulge but fighting for fair housing and civil rights when he returned.

“Dad’s work was always about finding ways to make people’s lives better,” Hassan said. “First and foremost in those core values was that in a democracy, everybody counts.”

After serving in World War II, Wood became a professor at MIT and then served in the brand new Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Growing up, Hassan says her father would ask her and her siblings at the breakfast table, “What have you done for freedom today?”

Dean Cash asked Hassan about this in the panel discussion that followed her remarks, and Hassan said it was meant to be a hypothetical question, but certainly was one which got her and her siblings thinking.

Hassan’s own experiences have served as a reminder that everyone has a role to play in creating a more just society. One of her two children, Ben, has severe physical disabilities. Hassan said when Ben boarded a school bus for the first time in his wheelchair, she realized that it was the work of families, advocates, and policymakers that made it possible for her son could go to preschool with his peers.

“[Dad] taught me that inclusion isn’t always easy. It’s easy to say everybody counts and to mean it, but what can be hard is how we can make it a reality. How you ensure that Ben or any child has the opportunities that all parents want for their kids.

“It wasn’t just the lessons about the importance of inclusion that my father taught me as a kid, but also the lessons about the difficulty of inclusion that he taught me as an adult that have informed my life in public service,” Hassan said.

“What a quintessential public servant – working at the federal level, at the state level, at the city level, in academia, in high school – I mean, it’s just remarkable. What an inspiration. What an inspiration he must have been to you, because he’s been a huge inspiration to all of us,” Cash said.

During the Q&A that followed the lecture and panel discussion, Leslie Stevenson, a student in the McCormack Graduate School’s Gender, Leadership, and Public Policy Program, asked Hassan for recommendations on how to get women involved in the policymaking process. Hassan said she herself was encouraged to run for office, something UMass Boston’s Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy has found is a common thread among women candidates.

“When you have a diversity of perspectives at the decision-making level, the organization just does better. The outcome will be better simply because of their participation. Get involved in things that are meaningful to you and that you are passionate about and often that will lead to more participation in a broader sense,” Hassan said.

Before being elected governor in 2012, Hassan was a lawyer and served three terms in the New Hampshire state Senate, including the last two years as majority leader. She’s currently a candidate for the United States Senate.

The Robert C. Wood Lecture is one of the premier events in the annual calendar of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies. The accompanying visiting professorship was conceived as a vehicle for bringing distinguished public leaders to the campus to lecture and engage students and faculty in discussions of public policy and political life.