AAVC Honors Gerry Laybourne ’69, P’93 with Outstanding Service to Vassar College Award

There was probably never a wrong time to give Gerry Laybourne ’69, P’93 the Alumnae/i Association of Vassar College (AAVC) Outstanding Service to Vassar College Award. But bestowing the honor upon her at her 50th Reunion was precisely the right time. And in the Villard Room on Saturday, June 8, her family, friends, and a bevy of her classmates thanked her for her service to her alma mater with a standing ovation.

In presenting the award, AAVC President Steve Hankins ’85, P’13, P’17 said this year’s recipient had more than qualified for such recognition.The award honors outstanding contributions made over a number of years in any or all of the following volunteer capacities: class, club, and committee activities; fund-raising; enriching campus life; or stewardship as board members, trustees, or donors,” Hankins said. “Outstanding Service Award winners are ambassadors on behalf of Vassar College to the alumnae/i and to the larger community. And, somehow, after all that she has accomplished for her alma mater, that expansive description still seems inadequate for Geraldine Bond Laybourne.”

Hankins noted that Laybourne is serving her second term on the board of trustees, was President of the AAVC board, was a member of the Steering Committee for the college’s $400 million fund-raising campaign Vassar 150: World Changing, and was co-chair of the search committee that selected Elizabeth Bradley as Vassar’s 11th President.

Typically, Laybourne began her acceptance speech by deflecting all the fuss. “Like many of you,” she said, “Vassar has been a part of me for so long that it’s hard to think about being of service to it. It is such a part of me that the award feels kind of self-serving. 

“As I look around this room, Vassar is in all of us—including my sisters in the class of ’69 —so full and rich. This is what Vassar is.”

Laybourne was a pioneer in the cable-television industry, leading the team that created Nickelodeon and Nick at Nite. After serving as head of cable programming for the Walt Disney Company and its ABC subsidiary, she co-founded Oxygen Media. She told those gathered in the Villard Room that she owed much of her success to Vassar. “My whole career was based on learning how to question everything,” she said. “The reason I was successful was that I questioned conventional wisdom, and that’s Vassar.”

President Bradley described Laybourne as a “tremendous optimist” who is nevertheless quick to acknowledge when the college is facing a problem. “But when she says, ‘We got this,’ she makes you feel that way,” Bradley said, “and that’s because she is the consummate problem solver. She makes us happen.”

AAVC Trustee Brian Farkas ’10, who noted he was by far the youngest member of the Board of Trustees, said Laybourne had taught him what leadership was all about at his first board meeting. “I was prepared to just sit and listen,” Farkas said, “but when someone said something I didn’t agree with—and Gerry knew I didn’t agree—she nudged me with her elbow and said, ‘Say something,’ in a whisper that a lot of people could hear. In that moment she taught me that you can’t be a potted plant as a volunteer … She taught me the value of speaking up for Vassar at every opportunity.”

AAVC President Steve Hankins ’85, P’13, P’17, Gerry Laybourne ’69, P’93, and Sharon Chang ’84, P’19, chair of the Alumnae/i Recognition Committee.

Laybourne’s daughter, Emmy Laybourne ’93, said she was not surprised that her mother had used her energy and strength “to make Vassar even stronger, because Vassar made her strong.” She mentioned that her mother had initially struggled academically until she made a deal with then-Dean Elizabeth Moffet Drouilhet, promising to raise her grades if she would let her run for president of Davison House. “This was a good deal for the college, because Mom was agreeing that if she worked hard, the college would let her work even harder,” Emmy quipped.

She noted that her mother had received numerous awards in her life, “but this one is deeply personal—it’s for her life’s work.” Turning to her mother, Emmy said, “Mom, you’ve done so much to champion the rights of children, and to put women forward time and time again. I couldn’t be more proud to be your fellow Brewer and your daughter.”

Those paying tribute to Laybourne included a surprise guest, Anne Tatlock ’61, one of her oldest and closest friends. Tatlock said that when she first visited the Laybournes when they lived in the same building in New York City, she immediately sensed they were a little unorthodox. “They had torn the walls out so the apartment was one big room, with very little furniture,” she said. “Gerry would often bring large boxes into the apartment. Every kid in that apartment building wanted to be in that apartment, where creativity and imagination was encouraged.”

Tatlock added that while Laybourne was achieving remarkable success in her career, “You have always maintained your love and devotion to your family, and you’ve done it all with grace and distinction.”

Prior to the event, AAVC Trustee Sharon Chang ’84, P’19, chair of the Alumnae/i Recognition Committee, said she and others on the committee realized that Laybourne had been deserving of the award for a long time. “We decided we wanted to present it at her 50th Reunion, where she’d be able to share the experience with many of her friends and classmates,” Chang said. “Gerry’s accomplishments epitomize this award. Vassar is in her DNA.”