URI’s Memorial Union director to retire after 35 years

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Celebration to honor Bruce Hamilton set for April 29

KINGSTON, R.I.– April 28, 2015– Every morning for the past 35 years, at 7:30 a.m., Bruce Hamilton walks through the University of Rhode Island’s Memorial Union, gets his coffee, then greets the staff with a warm smile and cheery greeting.


On May 29, the Jamestown resident and Memorial Union director will perform this ritual routine one last time, as the “fearless leader” will be retiring.


“Union,” “Selfless,” and “Awesome” are just some of the words that have been used by his former Student Senators to describe Hamilton.


“He is the staple of the Memorial Union,” said alumnus Neil Leston, of Middletown, N.J., former Student Senate president.


The campus community will celebrate Hamilton’s retirement, Wednesday, April 29 from 3 to 5:30 p.m. For additional information, go to the Bruce Hamilton Retirement Celebration page.


Hamilton said the best part about the Union and his job was, “working with the students and seeing their potential, no matter where they came from. I get to watch them develop. I get to see them hit that moment when they are asking intelligent and thought-out questions and that is a huge reward for me.”


Dave Bedard of Waterbury, Conn., another former Student Senate president who will graduate in May, said that Hamilton, who is also director for the Center for Student Leadership Development, “goes out of his way to make everyone he meets feel important.”


Thomas R. Dougan, vice president for Student Affairs, said Hamilton’s countless hours of service have made URI a better place.


“He has always put students first,” Dougan said. “He has supported student governance and knows that the way students learn about leadership is by giving students responsibility, staying out of their way and advising them when necessary. Through Bruce, our students gain incredible leadership experience and leave here with the skills necessary to be successful.”


Dougan said Hamilton has overseen what is essentially the University’s community center.


“The Memorial Union is a facility that is half the size of what it should be for a student body of 16,000. Yet Bruce, in cooperation with student leadership, has made this facility work, with more than 8,000 events scheduled annually.”


Hamilton’s effervescent personality and attitude made every day exciting in the Union, according to Bedard. “He was the heartbeat of the Union. He knew when to lighten the mood with a joke and when to be serious. He treated every individual the same, whether you were student body president or a young freshman looking to join your first student organization.”


Hamilton cited the Rainville Student Leadership Awards, First Night, and Commencement as favorite parts of his job. Out of the three, Rainville has a special place in his heart because “it is the one event that is solely focused on the students.”


He said it was an emotionally tough week when he informed the Student Senate and his staff about his retirement.


Hamilton credits the students and staff members for the smooth operation of the Union. “ The students and the staff are incredible; their commitment, and energy level. I have been very lucky,” said Hamilton.


“I found that little things, like going out of your way to talk to students can have a huge impact on them. We try to really enforce that students are welcome to come in and talk to us about whatever they want with complete confidentiality.”


“Bruce always had an open-door policy whenever any of the senators needed him. He was never too busy to stop what he was doing and provide input and guidance to the students,” said Gianna Prata, of North Smithfield.


Similarly, Bedard said that, “As cliché as it sounds, Bruce was like a father figure to many of us. He was always encouraging us but kept us grounded and played devil’s advocate to make sure we considered how our decisions would impact others.”


Prata said, “In addition to being a great mentor on a day-to-day basis, he also helped me figure out my individual strengths as a person and ultimately where I wanted to go with my career.”


What Hamilton said he is going to miss the most is his morning coffee and walk through the building interacting with students on his way to his office. “There is always something new, that’s why I am never bored, I will miss that most when I retire.”


But Hamilton believes in a brighter future for the Memorial Union. He is looking forward to what he hopes will be a new and bigger facility to stimulate involvement, campus life, late-night activities and community involvement.


“We need to be teaching all the time,” said Hamilton.


“Bruce told me, ‘Take the high road,’” said Bedard about Hamilton’s role in his development. “He gave me perspective. There will always be challenges, but great leaders rise above them. To this day when things are overwhelming, I remind myself, ‘Take the high road.’”


This release was written by, Rachel Smith, a graduate assistant for the Marketing and Communications Department.


Photo by Nora Lewis