Donahue Leaves After Three Decades at Middlebury


Dave Donahue

For 21 years, Dave Donahue has worked to bridge the town-gown divide. As chief of staff for President Patton and the director of community relations, he has been the college’s voice in the local community, discussing construction projects at selectboard meetings, fielding questions from residents in town and leading community organizations.

On Nov. 2, he will step down from his role in the administration to take a position as senior vice president and chief of staff at the Ultimate Medical Academy in Tampa Bay, Florida. There, he will be working with a school largely based online and with a student population of 15,000, many of whom come from backgrounds vastly different from those of Middlebury students.

Donahue admitted that his decision to leave took other adminstrators by surprise, given his long tenure at the college. He began his life at Middlebury in 1987, playing football and lacrosse as a recruited athlete. An East Coast native, he fell in love with the idea of attending an academically rigorous school surrounded by Vermont’s natural beauty.

After graduation, Donahue worked in consulting for five years at Accenture’s government and educational division, flying from city to city on a weekly basis. But when his role moved him further away from education, he looked for a way back.

“I wanted to work with education systems. But I was pretty removed by that time,” Donahue explained.

That’s when he reached out to his alma mater. After speaking with Ann Hanson, the current dean of Ross Commons and the dean of student affairs at the time, he was convinced that he wanted to be at a school again. In the summer of 1997, he accepted a position as the assistant dean of students.

What began as a junior role in the student affairs office turned into a decade-long association with the college, moving across various administrative roles until settling into his current job ten years ago as the chief of staff for the president and director of community relations.

He’s always been a top notch professional. We’re gonna hate to see him leave, because he’s been such a good person to work with.”

— Nick Artim

It was a tenure marked by community, both within the college and beyond. One of his earliest memories was of advising the inter-house council, a committee holding social houses responsible for infractions — a role that challenged the new administrator.

“I felt like I was drinking from the firehose back then,” he said, laughing. “But I was fortunate to have Ann Hanson and Matt Longman who were really good mentors to me.”

Later as director of community relations, he facilitated the college’s contributions to some of Middlebury’s most ambitious and contentious projects, from the Cross Street Bridge construction to the relocation of the town offices. Along the way, his professional and personal circles broadened to encompass members of the local community. He became a trusted liaison, playing a vital role in strengthening the relationship between the town and the college.

“He’s just one of these people with high integrity. We knew we could trust him, often as the main contact to the college,” said Nick Artim, a member of the town selectboard who has worked with Donahue for the past nine years.

Still, his role has not come without challenges. Between 2013 and 2015, Donahue helped move forward a project to relocate the decrepit town offices from their site across Twilight Hall to their current location next to Ilsley public library. The college spent more than five million dollars on the plan, acquiring ownership of the land that once held the offices and building a public park on the property.

In town meetings and forums leading up to the construction, residents engaged in heated debates, as some protested the college’s increasing reach into town and others griped at what they saw as an unnecessary expenditure. Even in the thick of these tensions, Donahue remained a professional arbitrator, always ready with a knowledgeable perspective and willing to have a conversation in his easy-going way.

“He’s always been a top notch professional. We’re gonna hate to see him leave, because he’s been such a good person to work with,” Artim said.

As for Donahue, whose Middlebury career centered around connecting the town and the college, he’s proud to leave the community with a physical space to do just that.

“It’s great to see to see the park get used in the summer for movies and music, and to see people just  hang out, to see kids playing in it. It’s a community asset,” he said.

Even outside of his official capacity, Donahue has been proactively involved in the community, helping to launch the Maple Run in 2009 and, until recently, chairing the Addison County Chamber of Commerce. He has also served on the board of the Better Middlebury Partnership, volunteered on the Cornwall school board, and coached the high school lacrosse team.

“I show up, and not show up representing the college’s agenda necessarily, but show up and say, ‘Hey, how do we make this place a better place to live, work, and play?’” he explained. “In the end, that’s going to be good for the college.”

Intentional or not, Donahue’s presence around town has made him an effective and authentic spokesperson for the college. He has gone to great lengths to engage with residents, even those who see the college as a tax-evading, inconsiderate neighbor. He spoke of one particular encounter with a town resident.

“We sat down for coffee. I ended up coaching his daughter in a sport, we ended up spending time on the sidelines,” he said. “And in the end, while he wishes the college would do more, I think he has come to a different understanding of what we do.”

These conversations made him one of the most visible members of the Middlebury community. With his active involvement came the fear that his departure might leave a gap in the relationship between the college and the town. But Donahue is confident that the relationship he helped to build will only continue to strengthen.

“We’re in a time now where there’s a lot of people not named Dave Donahue who have an interest in town,” he said. “Number one is Laurie Patton, who loves small town engagement, loves the dynamic of a small town, loves community organizations from the town hall theater to the Sheldon museum, to the Middlebury community center.”

Town residents and leaders share the optimism, recognizing the role he played in bringing the two communities closer together and leaving them with a better relationship going forward.

“He had brought others in, even before he decided to leave,” explained Rob Carter, president of the Addison County Chamber of Commerce. “It won’t be Dave, and his particular personality, the knowledge he has from his experience at the college, but I think there’s going to be a good handoff of responsibility.”

As Donahue leaves the college, he wants students to share the love for community that he held. The college’s responsibility to work for a better town extends beyond the administration — students, he said, must also learn about the lives people lead past the secluded hills of campus.  

“I would challenge students, whether it’s volunteering with an organization, or just maybe exploring with a friend five miles further down that road you’ve never been before,” Donahue said.

This same appreciation for community that has helped him succeed at Middlebury is what has made his decision to leave that much harder. “The relationships I’ve built with the people here at the school but also in town,” he said. “that’s the part that I’m gonna miss.”