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The Other Oxtoby

Claire Oxtoby has created her own active role as a member of the Pomona community for the past 13-plus years.

pcm-fall2016text39_page_17_image_0001There’s another Oxtoby who has had a Pomona presence for the last 13-plus years. Claire Oxtoby has a view of the College and a college president’s role unique to that of a life partner. But she has been a participant at Pomona, not just an observer.

Eschewing the somewhat archaic title of first lady—too ceremonial, she says—Claire prefers to think of herself as a doer. She is a familiar face in the community, whether meeting with students, talking to staff, attending College events like concerts in Little Bridges or a lunchtime talk in Oldenborg, traveling with the president on Pomona-related trips or auditing a history of photography class.

Claire has felt like part of the fabric of the College, with all the challenges and triumphs woven through what she calls an exciting and dynamic place. Literally living and breathing Pomona 24/7 has meant the occasional awkward moment. Like the student who rang the Oxtobys’ doorbell, shower bucket in hand and towel slung over his shoulder, asking if he could shower at their place, because Wig Hall was flooded, and there was no hot water. Claire invited him in to talk, wielded the power of a president’s wife, and put in a call to facilities.

Sometime back, Claire read an Inside Higher Ed article that talked about how not to be a toxic asset as a college president’s spouse. Laughing, she says she didn’t find the don’ts all that useful, but the dos were. Simple things, she says, like being friendly, approachable and helpful. She has played the role of a bridge builder, she says.

“David has a contract with various expectations, and how the College does as a whole is the metric that he is measured by. But for my job there are no metrics, so it’s really about just fitting in and trying to be helpful or make connections in different places,” Claire says.

Stories she’s heard from students have sometimes led to her connecting them with alumni or a job. She says those personal connections, whether with students, faculty, staff or alumni are among the things she’ll miss most about Pomona.

An early education teacher in Chicago before they came to Claremont, Claire still shares David’s passion for education. It’s something that is positive and forward-looking, she says. Looking back and looking ahead, based on what she’s seen at Pomona, she believes the future is bright.

“It makes you feel good about the world each year when we’re graduating students. They’ve had this experience here, they’ve brought their experiences, they’ve had more, and now they’re going out, and it makes you feel hopeful.”