Pay It Forward

New Board of Trustees chair Perry Traquina ’78 believes in giving back by investing in the next generation.

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By Laura Gardner

Growing up in Chicopee, Massachusetts, the middle child of Catholic Portuguese immigrants, Perry Traquina ’78 couldn’t have known the direction his life would take. His father spent more than three decades in a factory making tires by hand for the United States Rubber Company. His mother worked a string of blue-collar jobs, including making gauze for Johnson & Johnson, and tennis balls for Spalding. Traquina and his two siblings spoke Portuguese before English.

Though his father completed only third grade and his mother never went beyond first, they “drummed into our heads” that education was the ticket to a better life, says Traquina, who joined Brandeis’ Board of Trustees in 2002. “My father always said, ‘Do well in school and you won’t be making tires for a living.’”

Traquina took that advice to heart, excelling academically at Chicopee High School and becoming class president — the first inkling of his leadership promise, he says. Now, as the 57-year-old succeeds Malcolm L. Sherman as chair of the Board of Trustees — after Louis Perlmutter ’56, only the second alum in Brandeis history to hold this position — he continues to be especially mindful of the importance of broadening access to higher education.

A Brandeis scholarship recipient himself, Traquina and his wife, Robin, in 2006 created two endowed scholarship funds that have so far enabled a dozen remarkable, needy college students, some of them first-generation, to attend Brandeis.

“When we were thinking about giving back, it felt comfortable to us to create a scholarship targeting prospective students who were closer aligned to where I was once upon a time,” he explains.

Without the scholarship provided by Traquina, Krissy Ford ’15 says she would never have been able to attend Brandeis. “I’ve been given a chance to fight for my dreams — to take advantage of all the opportunities at Brandeis and really make this education worthwhile,” says Ford. “And my whole family is really pushing me; most of them have not completed college.”

In Traquina’s immigrant family, attending college was never a question. (His older brother became a journalism professor, and his younger sister a physician.) But how to pay for it was. “My parents worked very hard but never had money in the bank,” says Traquina.

On the advice of his brother, he investigated schools in Worcester and Boston, including Brandeis. “It wasn’t a particularly scientific or thorough college search,” Traquina remembers. He liked the Brandeis campus and the course offerings, and it was far enough, but not too far, from home. Ultimately, he says, a substantial scholarship and financial aid package brought Brandeis within reach: “That was a big part of my decision to go.”

He approached the academic opportunities at Brandeis with the same kind of purpose and ambition that friends say has defined his life and enabled his success. “What I see now is what I saw the first day of college,” explains Rod MacNeil ’78, friends with Traquina since they met in an East Quad hallway. “Perry is brilliant, focused, hardworking, measured and judicious, but also social — he likes to spend time with people.”

Chris Ciotti ’78 remembers how the Blizzard of ’78 offered a particularly rich time for snowbound bonding, as classes were cancelled for more than a week. Ciotti, MacNeil, Traquina and three others shared a mod their senior year. “Every morning, we’d get up, make a big breakfast, then try and dig out someone’s car,” Ciotti says.

When he wasn’t snowed in, Traquina spent much of his time in the library, demonstrating a singular intellectual stamina. “Perry had the best academic record of all of us,” says Ciotti, adding, “but he didn’t wear it on his sleeve.” Traquina was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and graduated summa cum laude.

“I learned how to be a better thinker at Brandeis,” Traquina says. “I learned to see problems from a variety of different perspectives.” An economics and American studies major, he credits several professors, but especially politics scholars William Goldsmith and Marty Levin, with providing the kind of mentoring at the heart of the best liberal arts education. “They encouraged me to stretch intellectually — to take different classes, to study abroad.”

He did all those things, taking courses on art history and architecture, as well as economics and history. He spent his junior year abroad at the London School of Economics — but only after Levin wrote a letter to Traquina’s parents reassuring them their son would be all the better for it.

After graduating, Traquina attended Harvard Business School, where he concentrated in finance. When he was offered a job at Wellington Management’s Boston headquarters, he says, half joking, good karma was at work: A painting by James Weeks hanging in the firm’s huge reception area had previously been in the Rose Art Museum, where Traquina had admired it as a student worker.

At Wellington, an investment firm with more than $750 billion under management, Traquina eventually rose to become CEO, a position he has held for nearly a decade. Closing in on 33 years at Wellington, Traquina has made plans for his succession, freeing up his time to steward the Brandeis board.

“Perry’s steady hand and incisive consideration of the issues before the board over the years have demonstrated his exceptional leadership and outstanding judgment,” says President Fred Lawrence. “That he is an alumnus only adds luster to his considerable talent.” Perry’s is a great Brandeis story.”

Following Lawrence’s direction, Traquina says, the board will tackle a number of pressing issues outlined in the strategic plan. These include affordability and financial aid, the impact of online learning and technology on the curriculum, enhancing already robust offerings in the sciences, the arts, business, and Middle Eastern and Judaic studies; and balancing these priorities with the need to be fiscally responsible.

“At the end of the day,” says Traquina, “we need to create an academic experience that provides Brandeis students with an outstanding education.”