Nancy Godwin Baldwin ’57 died Aug. 5, 2013, at the age of 78 following a lengthy illness. With her passing, Sweet Briar has lost one of its most ardent advocates, who devoted much of her life to advancing the College’s mission as an alumna, longtime administrator and dear friend.
Born Feb. 20, 1935, in Oklahoma to Francis King Godwin and Cannie Sells Godwin, Baldwin liked to say of Sweet Briar, “Shortly after I was born, I turned right and came here.”
And she practically did, although her family moved around before landing in Richmond, where she graduated from St. Catherine’s School.
Once she arrived at Sweet Briar, save for a year pursuing a master’s degree in speech and drama at Bowling Green State University, the College was her calling.
A natural thespian, Baldwin earned her B.A. in drama at Sweet Briar and accumulated numerous credits including authoring “Lord Jeffrey’s County,” a pageant produced for the town of Amherst’s bicentennial observance in 1957. She directed the Freshman and Senior Shows and was a member of Paint ’n’ Patches, where she took eight leading roles and directed and stage-managed productions.
She was elected to the May Court, served as toast mistress for the Junior Banquet and was tapped as a Q.V. by her classmates. She also was a member of the Curriculum Committee, Judicial Board vice chairman and her sophomore class president.
In 1958, Baldwin returned to Sweet Briar, where her public speaking skills helped her steadily advance from an admissions office “traveler” to director by 1966. She served as director of admissions until 1980, but was lured from retirement six years later to edit the alumnae magazine, a position she held until 2007. During that time, she also assisted in the development office.
Chief of staff Louise Swiecki Zingaro ’80 was director of the Alumnae Association during Baldwin’s tenure as magazine editor.
“It wasn’t just a job to Nancy,” says Zingaro, whom Baldwin also recruited as a student. “She had an abiding love for Sweet Briar that was reflected in everything she did.”
Baldwin’s niece, Sophia Crysler Hart ’81, says that while a student, her aunt “observed many impressive female leaders and educators up close — including the indomitable [then-president] Anne Pannell” and saw Sweet Briar as an “ideal place for young women to develop a strong sense of self and to realize their full potential.”
Hart and her sister, Cannie Crysler Shafer ’78, often visited from Philadelphia. The Baldwin home in Monroe was a base camp for summer adventures, exploring the campus dairy and boathouse as well as nearby attractions such as Natural Bridge.
“She was our fun, young, wonderful professional aunt,” Hart says, adding that both she and her husband, Thomas Lee Baldwin, were “funny, vibrant intellectual people with a great zest for living.”
Hart’s sister agrees.
“No two little girls could have had a more devoted aunt than we did, and when Nancy married Tom Baldwin, we had a fan club cheerleader in Uncle Tom,” Shafer says.
“We were their children along with many of their dogs and cats. Sophie and I could tell you stories of innumerable Aunt Nancy humorous adventures, be it combing the alleys of Williamsburg and eating hot fudge sundaes for breakfast, hiking in the Blue Ridge or collecting shells on North Carolina beaches.”
Those visits were filled with books, learning new card games and singing the lyrics to musicals, she says, also recalling a bit of teasing at school thanks to her aunt’s influence. “I announced that Groundhog Day should be declared a national holiday because my Aunt Nancy believed it was such an important celebration.”
Baldwin never pushed Sweet Briar on her nieces. She didn’t have to.
“From the time I can remember, I knew there was college. It was called Sweet Briar and I owned all sorts of things with the emblem and the rose on them,” Shafer says.
She did eventually understand there were other colleges and universities, and in due time her aunt took her to visit them. “She actually drove us to look at other schools, but I knew I wanted Sweet Briar and so did my sister.”
Nannette Crowdus ’57 says Baldwin’s personality and love for the institution drew students in. For many alumnae, she notes, other than the campus, Baldwin was their first impression of the College.
“They were her girls. She mentored and counseled them,” she says, suggesting it explains why there is such devotion for her and, by extension, for Sweet Briar. She had a knack for looking at you as if you were the most important person on earth, says Crowdus, who came to know Baldwin better when the two worked together as alumnae.
“You had her entire attention,” Crowdus says, describing her friend as elegant and ladylike. “She was just a very self-effacing person. Never tooted her own horn, always wanted to make everyone else feel good and that she was interested in you and what you had to say.”
Alumnae board president Sandra Taylor ’74 is one of the students Baldwin mentored, but it was Mr. and Mrs. Taylor whom Baldwin had to convince that Sweet Briar was OK for their daughter. She simply promised to look out for Sandra. Taylor eventually learned of this pact, when she could better appreciate her parents’ fears about being one of the only black students on campus.
Baldwin later hired Taylor as an admissions counselor, where she underwent what she calls the “Nancy Baldwin School of Public Speaking.” A banking executive, Taylor has since done a lot of public speaking and thanks her teacher every time she receives a positive response.
“It’s still hard for me to imagine my life and Sweet Briar without Nancy,” Taylor says. “She embodies every positive SBC value and will always be my mentor.”
Baldwin’s junior- and senior-year suitemate Anna “Chips” Chao Pai was surprised her good friend never pursued professional acting. But she was always proud of her service to the College and knew Baldwin’s “caring and kind and funny” personality was Sweet Briar’s gain.
She recounts a time in the early 1970s as the two were in the car headed to Sweet Briar for Opening Convocation, where Pai, a university professor, was to speak.
“She and I looked at each other and marveled that here she was, a dean, and here I was to be giving a college-wide speech. It was a moment I shall forever remember and recall with joy.”
Nancy and Tom Baldwin met in 1960, cast opposite one another in a community play in Lynchburg. He was a young nuclear engineer and became the love of her life — who fully supported her commitment to Sweet Briar, Hart says. The couple sponsored the classes of 1968 and 1973 and entertained students in their home. They lived a fulfilled life together until Tom’s death in 1996 following a brief illness. They had recently returned from Indonesia.
An avid gardener and cook, Baldwin also loved to travel. She assisted with the alumnae office’s travel program and went on a number of trips abroad.
In 2007, the College honored Baldwin with the Outstanding Alumna Award for her service and in honor of her retirement that year, the Alumnae Association established the Nancy Godwin Baldwin Reunion Attendance Award for the class with the highest number of alumnae attending Reunion in a given year. She was also proud to be a member of the College’s Silver Rose Society.
“Like her father, Nancy led a life of dedication and service to others that, in nature and spirit, was both old-fashioned and forward looking,” Shafer says. “I consider my sister and I to be most fortunate that in addition to our grandfather and our mother, Nancy’s older sister, we had such a strong role model who also loved us. It left an indelible imprint on us at a young age and helped to form the adults we grew to be.”
In addition to her parents and husband, Baldwin was preceded in death by her sister, Rosemary Godwin Crysler. She is survived by Shafer and her husband, Win, and their two children, Francie and Blake; and Hart and her husband, Richard Hadley.
A memorial service was held Saturday, Oct. 26, on campus during Homecoming and Families Weekend. Memorial gifts in her honor may be sent to Sweet Briar Office of Development, P.O. Box 1057, Sweet Briar, VA 24595. Donations will be designated to a scholarship fund to be established in Baldwin’s name.