May 12, 2021

Dear Trinity College Community Members,

In some ways, this letter is easy to write because I have an abundance of wonderful things to say about Cornelia Parsons Thornburgh—Cornie, to all who know her. In another way, though, it is incredibly difficult because it signals the end of one very special chapter in Trinity’s history that happens to have been deeply significant to me personally.

At the April meeting of the Board of Trustees, we celebrated Cornie and other retiring trustees for their dedicated service to the college. In Cornie’s case, that board service extended for 17 years and included her role since 2014 as the first female chair of the board. Her leadership has steered the college through extraordinary times—times of growth and of challenge for the college and times of great consequence for our nation and world. And she has helped Trinity spiral up and set us on a path to an exceedingly bright future.

Cornie has been a Trinity champion for decades, and she has taken a special interest in engaging her fellow alumnae in supporting Trinity women. She was one of the creators (and now is a member of the Founders Council) of Trinity’s Women’s Leadership Council and, more recently, of the Marjorie Butcher Circle, a leadership philanthropy group of Trinity alumnae. She has been unflinching and clear-eyed in her efforts to contribute to the improvement of the student experience, whether as co-chair of the Charter Committee for Building Community, as a chair of the college’s last capital campaign, or in her work to foster stronger shared governance with students, faculty, and staff. Before she joined the Board of Trustees, she served on Trinity’s Board of Fellows, and she has been a transformative donor to the college: in 2013, in celebration of their cumulative lifetime giving, Cornie and her husband, Richard E. Thornburgh, were included on Trinity’s Wall of Honor.

In 2010, Cornie was the first alumna to be awarded the prestigious Eigenbrodt Cup, one of the greatest honors that can be bestowed upon a Trinity graduate. And last year, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of coeducation, Cornie was among the “50 for the Next 50,” honoring 50 women who will have a lasting impact on the next 50 years at Trinity.

To me, Cornie is a friend, a colleague, a cheerleader, a supporter, a confidant, and most importantly, a partner in leading this amazing institution. She also is the person who, as chair of the Presidential Search Committee, led the work that brought me to Trinity and to my role as the first female president of this college. I could not have asked for a better partner.

So, how does one begin to say thank you and pay tribute to Cornie for all the good she has done for Trinity? I imagine that we will do so with our actions and words to support the college and its mission for a long time to come. For now, I am pleased to announce two specific tributes, which, in turn, will benefit current and future Trinity students.

First, with the support of a generous commitment by the Thornburgh family, we will renovate the building now known as Vernon Social, enlivening its spaces and transforming it into an inviting, state-of-the-art student-centered facility. It will be home to the Career and Life Design Center, formerly known as the Center for Student Success and Career Development. The building will feature an open floor plan to accommodate a wide variety of student interests, and we are creating new spaces for student government and other student organizations, as well as a hybrid classroom. And when it reopens later this year, it will have a new name: the Cornelia Parsons ’80 Center, or the Cornelia Center for short. This is significant. In honoring Cornie in this way, Trinity will have its first campus building named for a woman.

Second, thanks to the overwhelming generosity of many friends and classmates of Cornie, we are endowing a fund in her honor. We were delighted to surprise Cornie at the April board meeting with the news of the Cornelia Parsons Thornburgh ’80 Women’s Leadership Fund. This fund, the result of an effort led by Sophie Bell Ayres ’77, P’12, Nina McNeely Diefenbach ’80, P’18, Michael Kluger ’78, P’13, and Kevin Maloney ’79, will support a range of activities at Trinity related to women’s professional development and growth as leaders.

Together, these two tributes (the building renovation and the endowed fund) have raised more than $2.3 million in honor of Cornie and signify the long-term impact that she will have on her beloved alma mater. My thanks to all who have contributed to these efforts; what a fitting tribute they are to our Cornie!

In true Cornie fashion, before retiring from the board, she helped ensure a smooth transition and strong succession of leadership. In our incoming board chair, Lisa Bisaccia ’78, we have a highly experienced and accomplished executive, a collaborative partner and strategic thinker, and a deeply devoted advocate for education and for Trinity. On behalf of the entire Trinity community, please join me in thanking Cornie for her dedication to the college. We have been extraordinarily lucky to benefit abundantly from her time, talents, and treasures.


Joanne Berger-Sweeney
President and Trinity College Professor of Neuroscience