Remembering Marijo Russel O’Grady


Photo provided by Todd Smith-Bergollo

Marijo Russel O’Grady, Pace’s associate VP of Student Affairs and Dean for students on the city campus, lost her life to breast cancer earlier this month. She is remembered as a bright, caring individual who walked through life full of energy and compassion.

Emily Teixeira

Earlier this month, Marijo Russel O’Grady, Pace’s associate vice president of Student Affairs and Dean for Students on the New York City Campus, lost her life to breast cancer. Her colleagues remember her fondly, as a bright, caring spirit, who marched through life filled with energy and compassion.

“I don’t think you can describe Marijo without talking about her heart,” said Todd Smith-Bergollo, Assistant Dean and Director of Student Affairs on the city campus. “She led with her heart and had great compassion for others.  She always asked about people’s lives – how their family members were doing, how they were feeling… she really cared about their responses and she would always follow up again later.”

Smith-Bergollo started working with O’Grady in 1997 at NYU until O’Grady left NYU for Pace. When Smith-Bergollo came to Pace five years ago, he was excited to have another chance to work with O’Grady, stating that, “already knowing that you like and respect your supervisor is a huge plus.”

Rachel Carpenter, Pace’s interim associate vice president of Student Affairs and the Dean for Students on the Pleasantville campus, also has fond memories of O’Grady. Carpenter met O’Grady at a leadership conference in June of 2010. It was Carpenter’s third day at Pace.

“I was a little overwhelmed by the number of people in attendance, but when my former boss- Dean Lisa Bardill Moscaritolo- introduced me to Dean O’Grady, I was immediately enveloped into a hug and a ‘Nice to meet-ya’ from her,” Carpenter said. “She had such a huge smile on her face, and she seemed to treat everyone the same – with an assertive kindness… She was confident, warm, and full of energy.”

Carpenter describes O’Grady as having a brightness around her, “as if she literally glowed.” She recounted a time in the spring of 2015 when she served as Interim Dean for Students and worked closely with O’Grady. They called each other to discuss policies and cross-campus collaborations, and they attended many of the same meetings and events.

“I always knew I could call her if I had any procedural questions,” Carpenter said. Near the end of the semester, she sent me a congratulations basket of snacks, goodies, and desserts. She was helping me, and instead, she sent me the basket of goodies. Marijo was always thinking about other people and how they were doing. That was just her style.”

O’Grady would acknowledge stressful situations, but she never allowed them to slow her down. She was always on the move, working on one project or another. Some of her most notable achievements (according to Carpenter and Smith-Bergollo) include her work with students during crises like 9/11, Superstorm Sandy, and the blackout; her book, Crisis, Compassion and Resiliency: Using Triage Practices to Foster Well-Being; and her work with Student Affairs, which helped create many of the student-centered policies that Pace has today. Carpenter referred to her as a “crisis manager with a heart,” and Smith-Bergollo said that in all her work with students, she made sure they knew that they were being cared for.

O’Grady adored her husband, her son James, and her cat (named “Kat with a k”). She loved the outdoors, Hawaii, tropical plants, and she was known to sign emails and texts with “xoxo” to express her love and appreciation for the recipient.

“I hope that others can help promote her legacy by caring and advocating for others, which is what Marijo did nearly every day of her life,” Smith-Bergollo said. “Pace is a very caring community and I believe that was in part due to Marijo’s influence.”