Unity College students mourn librarian they describe as the glue that held the school together

Abigail Curtis, Bangor Daily News, Maine
·4 min read

Apr. 13—Back in the day, when brand-new Unity College students arrived on campus, it was hard for them to feel like they didn't belong.

That's because the school had a secret weapon: Dot Quimby, who served as Unity College's first librarian — and unofficial on-campus mom — from 1965 until her retirement in 2001. Even after her retirement, she kept in touch with the alumni who described her as having made a huge impact on their lives.

"The minute you met her, you loved her, and she loved you," Nicole Lazure, an alumna who later spent a decade working at the college, said Monday. "She just exuded an unconditional love. She took everyone under her wing. Meeting Dot was like coming home."

Quimby, 91, who died last week, is still bringing college alumni together. In recent days, they have been sharing funny stories, heartwarming anecdotes and more about the retired librarian who meant so much to so many. And at a moment when the liberal arts college is changing gears and moving from a traditional campus model to hybrid virtual and in-person education, honoring Quimby's unifying memory seems all the more important, they said.

"I think for a lot of alumni, Dot provided that glue that was really important," Jeff McCabe, who graduated from Unity College in 2000, said. "Over the years, the school has evolved to be very different from the Unity I went to. Change is hard. Some of those changes are positive ... Dot provided a sense of place, and losing people like Dot makes it harder to feel that connection."

Steph Barrett, who graduated in 1995, remembered her first year as a rough time when she had trouble forming relationships and trusting people. But certain members of the faculty and staff snuck in under her defenses, she said, showing her care and compassion and encouraging her to try new things.

"One of those special folks was librarian Dot Quimby," Barrett wrote last week in her personal blog. "I was not a library hound and spent as little time there as possible, but the first day I walked in, Dot already knew who I was and addressed me by name. She met me like an old friend. She was, it turned out, a mom to all the students."

Quimby, who had been with the school since it began, also served as its unofficial institutional memory. Chip Curry, who worked at Unity College in a variety of roles from 1994 to 2001, described a particularly memorable occasion when she shared stories from the past. It was 1994, and he was in charge of new student orientation. One night, the evening entertainment fell through and he needed someone to fill in. Quimby stepped up.

"For the better part of an hour, Dot captivated these brand-new students with every scandalous story in the college's history: drugs, faculty-student sex scandals, financial troubles, cows, presidents run out of town," he said. "The students loved it."

He, on the other hand, was panicked about the warts-and-all expose happening on his watch.

"I so clearly remember that moment. I'm sweating. There was this scandal, there was that scandal," he said. "But that was just her. So much was the relationships with faculty and students. Deep, rich relationships. That was just how she engaged. Those were the big, exciting stories. She wanted to share them with the new students and bring them in."

Her methods, though unconventional at times, really worked.

Joe Freire, who graduated in 1985, kept in touch with her in the decades that followed. The bond that started when he was a new student never frayed, he said. The last time he saw her, they went to lunch at a Unity eatery. By then, Quimby needed to use a walker. But even that didn't slow her down.

"No sooner did her hands touch the walker but she was off and running," he said. "We went into the restaurant, and of course, she was like the mayor of Unity. It was like one big, happy family. I would sit there in awe, because she knew so many people ... It just amazes me that a person can touch so many lives like that and make such a difference."