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Making History

In the midst of her sixth year on Providence Day School’s Board of Trustees, and just a few months from the finish line of the Charging Forward campaign last fall, Nancy Downing was no stranger to the case for giving to support Providence Day’s mission — after all, she’d spent years helping to deliver the pitch to others as chair of the Advancement Committee.

But when the time came for Nancy and her husband Bruce to decide how to give, they did something unprecedented: they established the school’s first Endowed Chair. The selected faculty member will be named at the end of this academic year, and will hold the Downing/Williams Endowed Chair of Teaching Excellence position for 12 months, earning an honorarium and professional development money provided by the fund. It’s named for both sides of the couple’s family, to honor a longstanding philanthropic tradition.

“I wanted something that could continue to give back to what I think of as the lifeblood of the school: the faculty,” says Nancy. The couple are parents of Yates ’12, Charlotte ’14, Tommy ’17, and Michael ’19. That means they’re closing in on 20 years of history with Providence Day.

“Twenty years is a long time in the life history of our family, and PD has been such an integral part of our family,” she says. “I just benefited so much from these faculty members. Not just by helping (our children) in the classroom, but by shaping them into the people they are now.”

The Downings don’t want to single out a particularly influential faculty member by name — because every one their children encountered was influential in his or her own way, she says. “I wanted them to have a special honor and a special recognition.”

She’s gratified that the couple’s gift was part of the successful conclusion of Charging Forward, which exceeded its $27 million goal. Nancy Downing was there for the entire five-year journey of the campaign. “To see this community come together in this way has been really special,” she says. Now, like the rest of the PD community, she loves grabbing coffee on her trips through the Global Café and enjoying the sunshine in the courtyard on nice days — though she admits to some fond memories of the dearly departed West Wing. “It has transformed our campus,” she says.

Endowed chair positions tend to be a hallmark of prestigious institutions — and that’s the idea the Downings were going for. “I think it will help continue to draw really high quality faculty to the school — and with retention,” she says. “It elevates a school, and that’s where we need to be, and that’s where we deserve to be.”

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