The announcement, although not entirely unexpected, was met with a wave of nostalgia from students close to the couple, who noted the McCarthys’ diverse talents and knack for the House mastership.
“They’re the heart and soul of Pfoho,” said Pforzheimer HoCo co-Chair Elizabeth B. Hadaway ’09. “They have always been incredibly supportive of every student endeavor.”
The McCarthys, who have served as masters for 13 years, say they are stepping down to pursue personal and academic ambitions.
Hadaway noted that the pair, whose residence is heavily decorated in the motif of the House’s polar bear mascot, has always been willing to contribute their “special gifts” to the Pforzheimer community.
“I mean, Jim is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, but he’s always so humble to talk to students on any issue,” she said. “And Sue is an amazing woman who has stories to tell and who is hilarious. She’s crafty, actually crafty—she knits.”
Hadaway jokingly added that she will be “proud to be in the same graduating class as the McCarthys.”
Jim McCarthy, who joined the Harvard faculty in 1974, is a professor of biological oceanography and has served since the 1980s on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore ’69 last year.
Former HoCo co-chair and self-proclaimed Pforzheimer “House elf” Brandon P. Geller ’08 called Jim McCarthy a “gentleman explorer” who possesses knowledge that one wouldn’t typically expect of an academic.
“He hasn’t been to a mechanic since 1976—he’s repaired his own car since then. He has a champagne tasting for the seniors at the end of the year and he also knows about his wines and all those sorts of things,” Geller said.
Geller said that the McCarthys have been considering stepping down from the post for several years.
McCarthy said that, as masters with the second-longest tenure of those currently at the College, he and his wife felt comfortable leaving the House mastership because they are satisfied with the state in which they will leave Pforzheimer.
Next year, McCarthy will take a sabbatical during which he will work on a book, develop a new General Education course, and research the intersection of religion and science. He added that his wife will devote some of her free time to quilting.
But the professor said he would miss Pforzheimer’s “extraordinary sense of community.”
“Every day I have a fascinating discussion with a student,” McCarthy said. “There isn’t a single day in which I can’t say that isn’t the case. And that’s something non-House masters don’t have the opportunity to appreciate.”
—Staff writer Charles J. Wells can be reached at email@example.com.