Mary Grant’s new campus in idyllic N.C. country

The inauguration of Mary K. Grant as Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Asheville was a beautiful event.

We wanted to be there to watch this extraordinary academic leader climb the next rung on the ladder that is her brilliant career. Roselle was a long time faculty member at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts where she served under several presidents. She raves about Mary’s accomplishments at the North Adams institution.

Grant’s ability to involve the Berkshire community and get along with the faculty is legendary. She brought that little college into the center of what happens educationally in all of Berkshire County. Her work on the Berkshire Compact opened up lines of communication in her field that would have once been considered impossible.

When she announced her retirement, many of us grieved. She will be almost impossible to replace. She was considered for an even bigger presidential role in the University of Massachusetts system but lucky for her, she didn’t get the job. That was a stupid mistake for UMass but a lucky break for her. That job didn’t happen but a much better one did. If you ever get a chance to visit Asheville you will see why.

First of all, this is one of the most beautiful university campuses you will ever see. It is tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains, considered by many to be one of the most beautiful places in America. The weather is wonderful. It is home to some of the best music you will find anywhere on the planet and that appears to be constant.

Roselle and I sat and listened to one of the greatest bluegrass bands we have ever heard as we nursed our drinks and that was easy because we both really dislike alcohol. Others around us imbibed some of the locally produced beers that abound in the town which apparently boasts any number of microbreweries.

But you didn’t have to go to a bar to see or hear musicians — you could just walk around and see the talent busking on sidewalks throughout the little city. Some of it really was terrible but some of it was extraordinary and as good as anything you’ll see on stage anywhere. One that stands out in my mind was a trio comprised of a young guitar player, a bass player and a fiddle player who, when she wasn’t playing fiddle, was clogging on a relatively small platform. I could have watched that band all night.

When you travel with Roselle, no moment is ever wasted. She plans every trip. She goes online. She buys guide books. Not a second is left unaccounted for. While most people who fly in to Asheville generally rent a car, Roselle is against car renting. Lucky for us, we met the great Berkshire brain surgeon (retired) Gene Leibowitz and his wife, Augusta, who were very sharing with their wheels.

Everybody talked about how we should drive the Blue Ridge Parkway so Roselle did her research and found an extraordinary man, Keith Yeatman of Tumblestone Tours. He took us on a five hour tour that brought us to several beautiful waterfalls. We got to do a bit of hiking and saw a really beautiful portion of the parkway. It is breathtaking and while the Berkshires have tremendous scenery, these Blue Ridge Mountains are never to be forgotten.

Put another way, this Asheville visit should be on everyone’s bucket list. As for Mary Grant, someone must be looking out over her. This will be a hard job but she is certainly up to it.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 9/26/15

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