Speaking on behalf of the state legislature, Rep. Ellen Story, holding a large blue portfolio, made a point of explaining that she was presenting Isman with “a resolution—not a mere citation” of the sort so often offered to local notables and organizations. This was a much rarer and more significant testimonial.
Head of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners Rob Maier, who made a special trip from Boston for the occasion, added the warm praise of his professional body for the achievements of Isman, who had held a number of statewide posts, including the presidency of the Massachusetts Library Association.
Local author, journalist, and former longtime Jones Library Trustee Chair Cheryl Wilson echoed the praise of Story and Maier and delivered the most extended remarks of the evening.
|l. to r.: Isman, WIlson, Maier|
Those ventures abroad were far less taxing than some of the challenges she faced here at home, as for example, when she led the push to de-accession a major painting by Albert Bierstadt in the Library’s collection. Although controversial in some circles (even among trustees), the action helped to finance the major renovation and expansion of the building that Isman oversaw in the early 1990s.
“We have a star in our midst,” Wilson declared.
She went on to wonder how Isman had done it all. “She always kept calm, and this is what I admired about her.” “What is her secret,” she asked? Mass every morning? Yoga every afternoon? Even simpler than that, she said, citing Isman’s advice in a Simmons Library School profile: “Never let them see you sweat."
Noting Isman’s passion for quilts and puzzles, Wilson played with that metaphor: “I think she has put together the pieces of the quilt of the Jones Library in an absolutely perfect way . . . This place is humming because of her leadership and the wonderful staff she put together. The community, the patrons of the library—they love you and they love the library.”
|l. to r.: Wilson, Story, Isman, George, Maier|
With characteristic humility, Isman, obviously moved, said, “Everyone has been very kind,” but she demurred, “It’s not what I do, it’s what our staff does, it’s what our team does.”
Echoing her words of encouragement at the smaller ceremony at the Renaissance Center some two weeks earlier, she said, “I think you folks should be looking forward as well as looking at our illustrious past. I think the Jones will be doing some pretty exciting tings in the future.”
Declaring, “It has been kind of a controversial year, but every heart is in the Library,” Jones Library Trustee Chair Pat Holland led the audience of approximately one hundred in a heartfelt but somewhat shaky song of celebration (yes, individualistic “Amherst, where only the ‘h’ is silent"—and we all choose our own key).
The congratulatory cake was decorated with the deliciously appropriate phrase from Borges: “I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.”
• Diane Lederman, "Library director bid goodbye," The Republican, 10 December
• Scott Merzbach, "After 30 years at the helm, Bonnie Isman says goodbye to The Jones Library," Amherst Bulletin, 10 December