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In Memoriam: John Cawthorne

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. (August 2012) — John Cawthorne, an urban education expert whose care and regard for students made him one of the Lynch School of Education’s most popular administrators, has died of cancer at the age of 70.

Dean Cawthorne officially retired this past spring from Boston College after having served for 13 years as associate dean for students and outreach at the Lynch School. In addition to coordinating the Office of Professional Practicum Experiences, he provided advising services to undergraduate and master’s degree students.

“John Cawthorne was a tremendous advocate for our students both inside and outside of the classroom,” said Lynch School Interim Dean Maureen Kenny. “His passing is a tremendous loss to our community, but the impact of his work and his dedication to the Lynch School will live on through the accomplishments of the many persons whose lives were transformed by his heart and his spirit."

Read tributes to Dean Cawthorne from a Spring 2011 BC reception: 'Remembering John Cawthorne'

John Cawthorne
John Cawthorne at his last BC Commencement in May 2011. Photo by John Gillooly / P.E.I.

As a faculty member and then as associate dean, he earned the love, admiration and respect from numerous students, who valued his level of commitment and willingness to help them find their professional and personal callings.

“He has instilled in us a sense of confidence that we do deserve to be successful and that we do deserve to have such a wonderful person in our lives,” said Robyn Antonucci ’11, at a gathering held for Dean Cawthorne in April 2011 after he had announced his forthcoming retirement.

At the event, Bryan Ramos ’10, M.Ed.’11 recalled how he had once asked Dean Cawthorne the easiest way to transfer out of the Lynch School. “He simply looked at me with a blank stare, like he normally does, and goes, ‘You won’t want to.’ And five years later, John is my mentor. He’s definitely influenced my passion to want to go into a higher education institution, and be the dean that he is and was for me.”

Matthew McCluskey ’11, M.Ed.’12 noted that Dean Cawthorne not only convinced him to study education instead of law, but had helped him land a one-month teaching placement at a South African high school. “I still go to him with questions, and he doesn’t give me answers. He gives me questions back. And that’s what I try to do with my students. And it’s brilliant. And it’s empowering. It teaches students self-efficacy and allows them to realize they have the answers themselves.”

In 2002, Dean Cawthorne received the Mary Kaye Waldron Award presented annually to the Boston College administrator or faculty member who has done the most to enhance student life at the University.

Among his other achievements and activities, Dean Cawthorne helped organize a drive to help the financially troubled Holy Family School of Natchez, Miss., one of the oldest African-American Catholic schools in the country.  He and Lynch School students made the 4,000-mile trip to bring supplies and support to the school, and stayed to help do clean-up and construction projects and play with the schoolchildren. The Natchez Immersion Trip has become an annual service opportunity for the Lynch School.

Dean Cawthorne, who began his association with the Lynch School in 1989 when he joined the school's Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation and Educational Policy as a research associate, was a widely acknowledged advocate for urban education. He served as a consultant to school systems in Boston, Cambridge and several other Massachusetts communities, as well as in Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Ore., and Atlanta.

An active member of the National Urban League, he became NUL vice president for education in 1995, and in concert with his one-year appointment the organization’s educational office was relocated to the Lynch School’s home in Campion Hall.

"By taking advantage of the natural alliances between parents and teachers, we will help bridge the gap between communities and schools," he said in an interview after his appointment, "and that gap is wide in urban communities. The issue is how do we work with schools and families to create new structures — structures that incorporate and reflect home, community and school experiences and priorities."

In 2003, the Lynch School established the John E. Cawthorne Chair in Teacher Education for Urban Schools, awarded to a senior Lynch School faculty member who, through his or her scholarship and research, works to enhance the education of teachers for urban schools. The chair was endowed by a pledge from the Mahoney family, whose members include Jay Mahoney '69 and his daughter, Erin '02. The professorship is currently held by Marilyn Cochran-Smith.

Dean Cawthorne earned his bachelor's degree from Harvard University in 1964 and a master's degree in teaching from Antioch-Putney Graduate School of Education in 1969.

A memorial celebration will be held on Saturday, September 8, 2012, at Hibernian Hall, 184 Dudley St., Roxbury, MA from 12:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. Donations in Cawthorne's memory can be made to the American Cancer Society or the Dana-Farber Cancer Research Institute/The Jimmy Fund.

--Office of News & Public Affairs