be emboldened at BC
Mimi O’Hagan NC’51 has truly lived her life for others. After managing publicity for the American launch of Schweppes (“great fun, but I got tired of putting bubbles in bottles”), O’Hagan decided to concentrate on not-for-profit organizations. She first founded a publicity agency serving nonprofits and then was an administrator at a community hospital.
When she retired, she made a similar decision: devote the rest of her life to humanitarian work abroad. A lifetime of travel in the developing world had made her familiar with extreme poverty. But a Habitat for Humanity trip to Ethiopia proved transformative. “The most striking thing,” she remembers, “was the joyfulness of the very poor children that I encountered.” Back in New York, she called a friend at Save the Children. “Where in Ethiopia would you most like to put a school?” she asked. The answer was Tigray, a remote region with a mostly illiterate population.
So, at age 76, she began fundraising. “I don’t know how I was so emboldened,” she laughs. But in a few months, she had enough money to build not one, but two schools. Mimi’s Building Blocks (www.mimisbuildingblocks.org) has now constructed four schools in Ethiopia. O’Hagan isn’t done—she’s raising money to expand them. “I believe that what we’ve achieved proves that anyone can help others,” she says. “It is never too late to start!”
Below, O’Hagan shares more of her thoughts:
What is the most satisfying moment in your professional life?
As a hospital administrator, establishing our first patient advocate and pastoral care programs.
In your personal life?
As an international volunteer, experiencing the challenges faced by developing countries.
What is your fondest college memory?
A Newton College basketball game vs. Harvard. We won!
What is your next goal?
Raise funds so each school becomes a community education center where students are taught through grade eight and adults receive literacy and vocational training.
What is one thing everyone should do while at BC?
Make friends who share your interests. They will become important supporters and fun life companions.
How have you changed since graduation?
I hope I am more aware of how blessed I was that my education encouraged me to do nonprofit work, sharing with those who have so little and need so much.
Why did you decide to attend Newton College?
Attending a Sacred Heart high school, I appreciated the balance of a challenging curriculum with care for others. I greatly admire Boston College’s curriculum and its interfaith activities, which are so important in the world today.
What is the secret to success?
Focusing on one’s interests and talents and not being afraid to work hard.
What is something your friends don’t know about you?
I’m not going to say; they might read this.
What would you do if you were BC president for a day?
Declare a holiday.
What was your first job?
I worked for the CIA. I applied my senior year and, after months of investigation, received my classified clearance. Then I was assigned, like most women, to the secretarial pool! I was not good at it. I met some interesting young men (nothing classified!) and resigned after a year.
Where did you live freshman year?
In the Schrafft’s home with three roommates—our room overlooked the front driveway.
How do you relax?
I like fixing things and working with my hands; I did restoration of fine ceramics for years. Today, living in New York, I volunteer in Central Park weekly.
What was your favorite class?
Mother Louise Keyes, president of Newton College, taught philosophy. It was a difficult course, but, in retrospect, I think ethically important in my later life.
What do you look forward to each day?
Having something interesting to do, sharing with good friends, and having a glass of wine or two in the evening.
What was your favorite college activity?
Taking advantage of the many cultural activities available in Boston, e.g. pre-Broadway shows and free rehearsals of the Boston Symphony.
Who would play you in the film version of your life?
There are a lot of candidates. I’ll have to leave the casting up to my Sacred Heart friends!
What was the best meal at the dining hall?
After all these years, I can’t remember one!