Gail Sheehy — UVM alumna of the Class of 1958, pioneering figure in the New Journalism movement, and bestselling author — has passed away at age 83. One of the first women in national media, Sheehy published profiles and biographies of figures such as Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev and Hillary Clinton. Her 1976 book, Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life, was named one of the 10 most influential books of our time by the Library of Congress.

Sheehy was close to her alma mater across the past five years. She returned to campus to deliver the 2016 commencement address, visiting Burlington a month prior to interview seniors as background for her talk.

The next spring, she spent two weeks living in a UVM residence hall, a time during which she taught a seminar for aspiring undergrad journalists and led a workshop with faculty on how to share their work broadly via media.

She also got to know her residence hall mates well in conversations and interviews, as she collected information for a project focused on Millenial daughters and their Boomer mothers. She jumped at the chance to be immersed with her subjects on campus, noting it’s exactly the advice she gives aspiring journalists on how to work a story. “Be an anthropologist,” Sheehy said. “You have to saturate yourself in the experience.”

Luis Vivanco, anthropology professor and co-director of UVM’s Humanities Center, collaborated with Sheehy to design the residency. “We want to change the discourse around humanities, from ‘why would you major in that’ to ‘you should major in that,’” said Vivanco, “and Gail is Exhibit A of the success you can have as a humanities major.”

Read Sheehy's obituary in The New York Times, which cites her 2016 commencement speech.


Thomas James Weaver