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University of Iowa News Release


Dec. 28, 2009

Mary Jo Small, UI associate vice president emerita and rights advocate, dies

Mary Jo Small, University of Iowa longtime associate vice president for finance and university services and recognized human rights advocate, died of complications from a stroke on Friday, Dec. 25, 2009, at the age of 72 at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

A Memorial Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m., Wednesday, Dec. 30, at St. Thomas More Church, 3000 12th Ave., Coralville. A reception will follow at the University Athletic Club, 1360 Melrose Ave., Iowa City. Arrangements are being made through Lensing Funeral and Cremation Service of Iowa City (

In lieu of flowers or long-distance travel to attend services, memorials may be directed to the Mary Jo Small Fellowship Award in care of The University of Iowa Foundation, 1 W. Park Road, P.O. Box 4550, Iowa City, Iowa 52244 ( The Fellowship Award supports the professional development of University of Iowa staff.

"The Mary Jo Small Fellowship Award was important to our mother. Our
father hopes to see it grow further, that it might prosper as a living
memorial appropriate to this extraordinary woman, whose life embodied
a dedication to education and service to others," said Arthur Small III, her son.

Commenting on Small's service to the university, UI President Sally Mason said: "All of us in the University of Iowa family were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Mary Jo Small, who devoted much of her life to the University and to the state of Iowa as a leader on the statewide and national political scenes.

"I arrived at the University following Mary Jo's retirement. In my time here, I have heard from many of her colleagues who greatly admired and respected her intellect, her judgment, her knowledge of the University and her ability to work with individuals from all backgrounds and levels of the organization. Everyone will miss her wise counsel, her calmness under duress, and her dignified manner. Her remarkable career and community service created a lasting legacy for which we will always be grateful," she said.

UI President Emeritus Willard (Sandy) Boyd said, "Mary Jo Small's life and career are testimony to the value of literary studies. Like her hero (Victorian era English novelist) Anthony Trollope, she combined a love of literature with a practical career. She was a pioneering leader in working with all of the people who are the University of Iowa. As associate vice president, she actively and perceptively broadened the concept of personnel to the larger field of human resources.

"In a period which saw the largest expansion of staff in the University's history, she had vision, judgment, compassion, and courage. She embraced diversity and best practices with sensitivity and concern for the individual as well as the whole community," Boyd said.

Small was born Mary Johanna O'Callaghan Feb. 5, 1937, in Cincinnati, Ohio. She earned her bachelor's degree, Summa Cum Laude, from the University of Dayton in 1959 and her master's degree from the UI in 1961. She met her future husband, Arthur A. Small Jr., while they were UI graduate students in English, and they were married in 1960.

Her long association with the UI began as a teaching assistant in the Department of English. She served as administrative assistant to the department head and faculty in the Department of Physiology from 1969 to 1971 and project representative in the Office of the Vice President for Educational Development and Research from 1971 to 1972. Between 1972 and 1982 she served as assistant vice president and from 1982 to 1999 as associate vice president for finance and university services.

Small provided leadership in the development of the current UI administrative data processing function and policies for equal opportunity in employment. The majority of her work was in the development of the functions that are now recognized as UI Human Resources. Mason said that since 1972, no one at the University has had greater impact on the working lives of merit or professional and scientific staff than Mary Jo Small. Virtually every policy having to do with human resources, from human rights to health care, was nurtured, supported and implemented with her guiding hand, she added.

In addition to her official UI activities, she was a strong advocate for the issues of childcare, gender equity, gay rights, peace, and justice. The Mary Jo Small Child Care Center at Brookland Woods is named in her honor, and the UI recognized her distinguished career by establishing the Mary Jo Small Fellowship Award. She also served on the St. Thomas More parish council and on the board of Goodwill Industries of Southeast Iowa.

For much of her life and retirement she was active in Iowa politics. Her husband, Arthur Small Jr., served in the Iowa Legislature as a state representative and senator.

In 1997, Mary Jo Small received the Distinguished Achievement Award at the University's annual Celebration of Excellence and Achievement Among Women. In recognition of her work to expand child care on campus and promote issues of concern to women and children, the Mary Jo Small Child Care Center at Brookland Woods, 309 Melrose Ave., was named for her upon her retirement in 2000.

Linda K. Kerber, May Brodbeck Professor in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Department of History, said, "Once, when asked how she managed to make so many difficult decisions that come before an administrator, she responded that it was easy. 'I turn the questions around; they always turn out to be, at their core, questions about ethics. Once I can see the ethical base, I know just what to do.'"

Jeffrey L. Cox, UI professor of history, said, "As a university administrator she was at times responsible for sitting across the bargaining table with members of AFSCME (American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees). However adversarial the bargaining, she respected her adversaries. She was a Democrat in the grassroots Iowa tradition of Harold Hughes, Dick Clark, and John Culver, which encompassed a strong commitment to public higher education, and public funding of higher education as an essential part of democracy. The goal was to have a publicly funded research university of the highest level that would be accessible to students from working class families in Iowa."

Doug True, UI vice president for finance and university services, said of her: "She had an innate ability to grasp and understand a situation quickly. She saw things clearer than most people.

"In many ways she was a bridge between the old paper methods of managing a 20,000 person employment base to the remarkable capabilities we have today in getting instant information on almost any relevant human resources question. But as all of the efficiencies were occurring with the use of ever increasing computing capabilities, she never lost the fundamental concept that faculty and staff are individuals and needed to be treated with care and sensitivity," he said.

Sen. Tom Harkin said, "Mary Jo spent her life working on behalf of women, those living with disabilities and for improved care of children both within the University of Iowa community and in the broader society. My thoughts are with her family during this time of need."

Tom Slockett, Johnson County auditor, said, "Mary Jo was one of the most impressive people I have ever known. At Democratic caucuses and conventions she spoke eloquently and forcefully for peace, women's' rights, civil rights, human rights and legal and economic justice. She was extremely well informed, astute, had a near photographic memory, poise, stature, and charm, and an ability to be forceful, respectful and kind at once. This made her a powerful and convincing advocate for the causes she supported. She had a quiet eloquence that captivated and convinced her audiences large and small."

Susan Buckley, UI vice president for human resources, said, "Mary Jo Small was the administrative champion whose intellect, passion, and political savvy was essential to the achievement of progressive University policies such as the expansion of the UI Human Rights statement to create protection for lesbians and gays, establishing domestic partnership insurance for same sex partners, integrating the concept of comparable worth as a guiding principle into the employee compensation system, and having a critical role in the formation of the first sexual harassment policy.

"Mary Jo, whether it be in relation to expanding campus child care resources or supporting the creation of the Pre Vocational Training Program which assisted low income Iowa community women, was frequently the necessary translator and ambassador to other central administrators and the Board of Regents Office in terms of why such changes were needed and the right thing to do. Mary Jo Small's influence on our university should always be remembered as broad and deep; profound in its effect and to be always appreciated," Buckley said.   
Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba said, "Mary Jo was truly a lovely person and the most brilliant woman I have ever met. She came from a Catholic working class family and never forgot her Irish-American roots and the importance placed on education. I was told she received all A's in grade school, high school and graduate school. As a matter of fact, she was one of only three students at the University of Dayton to ever earn straight A's for their academic career, but was denied being named valedictorian because she was a woman. But Mary Jo showed them later by becoming the highest ranking woman in the administrative structure of the University of Iowa -- she shattered the glass ceiling before most of academia even recognized the fact that there was a glass ceiling."

Small is survived by her husband, Arthur, children Peter, Martha and Arthur III, and four grandchildren.

Notices of condolence may be left at (requires registration).

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gary Galluzzo, writer, 319-384-0009,