The retirement of Fred Puddester

To the Williams community,

I write to tell you that Fred Puddester, Vice President for Finance and Administration, has informed me of his plans to retire in August 2021. I wanted to take a moment to share this news and pay tribute to some of Fred’s many contributions to Williams.

My predecessor, Adam Falk, hired Fred in 2011 from Johns Hopkins, where he was senior associate dean for finance and administration at the Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. Prior to that, Fred had been the university’s executive director of budget and financial planning, and earlier still Secretary of the Department of Budget and Management for the State of Maryland.

The vice presidency for which Fred was hired was brand-new at the time. His deep respect for our academic mission and dedication to managing our resources for their greatest benefit have set a high standard for the role. This was the secret to his highly effective working partnerships with provosts Will Dudley ’89 and Dukes Love.

Our former Board chair, Michael Eisenson ’77 P’07 worked closely with Fred from the start. Michael says, “Fred was an indispensable member of the senior leadership of the College, a trusted counselor to the Board and the President and, for me, a joy to work with for a decade. He came to the College at a critical moment as we were navigating our way out of the financial crisis, bringing a sophisticated understanding of higher education finance as well as broad and deep experience in financial and operational management. He accomplished transformative change in a wonderfully collaborative fashion. I believe that Fred is an important part of the reason that the College is in such a fundamentally strong and sound place today.”

Dukes echoes that sentiment. “Fred has been an invaluable partner and mentor in my time as provost,” he wrote. “There are few challenges that he hadn’t already encountered during his career. His varied and deep experience equipped him to have a significant, positive impact across so many parts of Williams. Throughout, he has stayed focused on our academic mission and his belief that the college administration can only do its best work through a partnership with students, faculty, staff, alumni and families.”

Fred’s impact has indeed been impressive and wide-ranging: he led projects with Rita and the team to plan and build a new Science Center, the CDE, Fort Bradshaw, Garfield House, the new Williams Inn and the Williams Bookstore, among others. He helped us completely rethink our financial systems, produced a strategic planning working group report to inform our 10-15 year vision for Williams, launched a campus master planning project to guide development over the next decade, and somehow found the time and energy, as Dukes noted, to brilliantly coordinate our Covid response.

No matter how large his to-do list—and there were days when there must have been hundreds of items on it—Fred seemed to be working around the clock, even volunteering at the testing site while simultaneously conducting Zoom meetings with the Operations group.

Fred would be the first to remind me that he didn’t accomplish most of the abovementioned things himself: he supported others and encouraged them to give their very best. As a new and first-time college president I myself learned so much by talking with Fred, and observing his commitment to his team. What he’s proudest of is organizing the good work that was already being done by staff before he arrived and encouraging it further once he got here. The people he manages excel in our dining operations, constructing and caring for our physical campus, managing college finances and resources, conducting long-range planning, ensuring campus safety, and even caring for and educating children of faculty and staff, among other areas. Fred has nurtured people who do a great deal of the work needed to keep Williams running well, so this email tribute to him is also an important moment to acknowledge and thank them.

Fred has also been a crucial connection between the college and the Williamstown community. He’s our liaison to the town and Select Board, meets frequently with local business leaders, and serves on the BART board, as well as a workforce housing board back in Maryland.

It’s highly unlikely that someone with so much energy and drive will slow down much after retirement. When he’s not throwing himself heart over heels into playing with his four grandchildren and spending quality time with his children and his wife, Susan, Fred will need to divide his considerable energies among his vegetable gardens (he used to celebrate the end of each Maryland legislative session by heading home to grab his shovel and rake), rooting for his beloved Ravens, skiing and playing golf, and following politics in minute (not to say obsessive) detail.

I’ll be sad to say goodbye to Fred as a colleague and partner. We’ll conduct a national search for his successor, and I’ll announce details about that in a future message. But for now I wanted to let you know of his planned departure next August, and invite you to join me in thanking him for doing so much to make Williams the very special place that it is now.

I’ll close with these wonderful words from our Board Chair, Liz Robinson ’90: “While working with Fred over the last 10 years, I’ve valued his financial savvy, experienced judgment and deep dedication to Williams. Fred’s devotion to values-based and people-centered management, along with his careful stewardship, are among his greatest gifts to Williams.”