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Joan Pinck, Advocate for Women’s Rights, Business School Administrator and Lecturer, Dies at 89

When Joan Braverman Pinck ’50 first came to Radcliffe, she was recovering from a dormitory fire at her high school that left her with burns so severe she needed assistance buttoning her shirt, tying her shoes, and cutting her food.

That was a formative moment in developing Pinck's character, her daughter Alex E. Pinck said.

“Having to ask for help made my mother fiercely independent and strong-willed,” she said.

Pinck, an advocate for women’s rights, was one of the first female administrators at the Business School, holding positions as an assistant dean and lecturer. She died March 10 at 89.

Ellen Hume ’68, who was a student of Pinck’s at the Dana Hall high school in Wellesley, Mass., said Pinck’s facial scars from the fire were intimidating, but much less so than her high standards as an English teacher.

“Her sonorous voice lifted up phrases like ‘This distracted globe’ and she decoded what it meant for us—not just this crazy world, but the confusion raging in poor Hamlet’s own head,” Hume wrote in an email. “Teaching us to see beneath the surface… was one of her important legacies.”

High school teaching was one of Pinck’s first jobs after graduating Radcliffe—an unusual move at a time when many women married during or immediately after college and became full-time homemakers. It was the start of a career steeped in education.

“She was first and foremost a teacher,” Charles Pinck, Pinck’s son, said.

Pinck would go on to a varied career—holding jobs ranging from the director of Research Administration and Policy at Beth Israel, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital, to assistant secretary of education to Governor Michael Dukakis to her time at the Business School.

Regardless of the positions she held, Pinck remained a passionate advocate for women’s rights. In a 1976 seminar for women in banking, titled “Equal Opportunity: Profit Opportunity,” Pinck recounted a prospective employer telling her that, given she had two children and would not promise to “sin no more, there was no job.” She said she was told she was overqualified so often she could “barely use the term without shuddering.”

And in another speech in 1975, she spoke of how the “acculturation process” for women teaches them not just “everything they don’t have to know” but “things which, when practiced, are virtually guaranteed to hold them back,” and how opportunities for women in academia “lagged shamefully but not even shamefacedly behind” other industries.

Pinck combatted these forces throughout her career. As the dean of students at Pine Manor College from 1969 to 1972, Pinck helped institute one of the early Open College programs, groundbreaking given its particular focus on enabling women who did not complete college to re-enroll and finish their degrees.

Alex Pinck said her mother was a powerful force in her many administrative and consultant positions, whether pushing for opportunities for women as a part of the Board of Directors of the Harvard Community Health Plan, now known as Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, or working with Catholic charities and combating sexual assault within the Catholic church as a Jewish woman.

“It was a man’s world back then, and my mother was proud to be at the table with them,” Alex Pinck said.

At the Business School, Pinck taught writing in the "Written Analysis of Cases" course, a required report writing course for Business School students at the time. Charles Pinck recalled many former students saying it was the most valuable course they had taken.

Pinck carried her formidable teaching skills beyond the Business School to her time at Beth Israel, Pinck’s former research assistant Michael Lanner said.

Lanner remembered Pinck as a no-nonsense and cigar-smoking woman who used her experience in academia to overcome a lack of knowledge of science and technology in her position as director of research administration and policy at Beth Israel Hospital.

Pinck used her business skills to negotiate patents and licenses with drug companies and was one of the first leaders to develop policies related to her position. She opened up “a new era of business at B.I.,” Lanner said.

Lanner ultimately assumed Pinck’s position when she left.

“I really owe my entire career to her,” he said, adding he credits her with teaching him how to write.

“Even today, when I write something, I always think of her,” he said.

Jennifer Pinck, Pinck’s daughter, said her mother’s determination and grit served as one of the most visible traits she passed on to her children—as well as a confidence for breaking barriers, given Jennifer Pinck was the first woman to obtain a Boston ABC license to perform any type of construction work in the City.

“I think I got the chutzpah from my mother because she did it,” Jennifer Pinck said. “That spirit and the confidence.”

Jennifer Pinck said that, even in later years when she was ill, her mother retained her independent spirit.

“You don’t tell my mother, ‘You can’t do it,’” Alex Pinck said. “Even until she passed, you don’t tell my mother she couldn’t do something. She dug her heels in.”

Ultimately, Pinck’s three children agreed Radcliffe formed the center of their mother’s identity and pride. As a student, Pinck was student government president. Alex Pinck recalled stories of her mother driving her friends around in her car, or eating her friends’ leftover chocolate ice cream.

Pinck enthusiastically participated in alumni events, with gear from commencements past in abundance around the house. She loved the opera and loved to travel, particularly to countries in Africa. She enjoyed wearing colorful Marimekko prints, and one of her favorite pastimes was reading from her beloved book of Chaucer with markings from her years at Radcliffe.

“She was a barrier breaker,” Alex Pinck said. “When it wasn’t the thing to do and it wasn’t the time.”

Pinck is survived by her husband Dan, and four children, Charles, Anthony, Jennifer, and Alexandra.

— Staff writer Sofia W. Tong can be reached at sofia.tong@thecrimson.com.

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