Maravene Loeschke, who will become president of Towson University Jan.1, couldn't walk a straight line through the University Union's Potomac Room, where regents, faculty, staff and students had gathered to welcome her Sept. 22.
This was the school from which she had earned a bachelor's degree in English and theater in 1969 and stayed on, to earn a master's degree in education, to teach, to marry C. Richard Gillespie, the founder of the theater department, and to eventually assume the deanship of College of Fine Arts and Communication before she left in 2002 to become the provost of a college in Pennsylvania.
Tall, immaculately groomed, gracious and laughing as well as smiling, Loeschke was waylaid by hugs, handshakes and heartfelt words of congratulation, as well as photographers.
One of her biggest hugs was reserved for Michal Makarovich, who was a well known figure in Baltimore's theater community for years before he set up a shop in Hampden that he calls "Hampden Junque."
A former classmate, Makarovich "knew her when," as they say.
In a prepared statement, Orlan M. Johnson, chair of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, noted why Loeschke was the exceptional candidate among the 80 exceptional candidates who had applied.
"Throughout her career, she has demonstrated the kind of leadership needed to keep institutional goals on track in both good and difficult economic times," he said.
"Her inclusive leadership, unfaltering focus on excellence, and her ability to generate alternative funding sources will serve the university, our system, and the State of Maryland well in the years ahead."
A professional actress, Maravene Loeschke knows how to take center stage. Her speech of about 10 minutes was lively — it lacked even a trace of pomposity — engrossingly fast-paced, direct and delivered without notes.
And it was obviously endearing. The standing ovation she received was longer and louder than the one she received before she took the podium.
"I am absolutely honored to be standing before you as your president of this wonderful institution," she said.
She had received "a fabulous education" at Towson, an education of the whole person that laid the groundwork for everything she has ever done,"
She pointed out TU's assets: A state that values higher education; regents and a chancellor who are respectful of the school and take pride in it; a beautiful facility that keeps growing and "I don't know where there is a better faculty and staff," she said.
She will be "a servant leader" to enable the faculty and staff to do their best work, she said, and she will be a "50-50 president," meaning she will be off campus 50 percent of the time forming partnerships, raising money and making friends.
But she has a very strong interest in students developing leadership and using their energy to make positive changes in their lives and in world in which they live, she said.
The other 50 percent of the time she will team up with faculty and staff to take TU "to the next level of excellence to serve the needs of our beloved students."
But Michal Makarovich remembered her more than 40 years ago, when she herself was a student in the theater department.
"We were in this clique in the class above her," he said. "She was this nervous and shy — maybe not shy, but fragile — 18-year-old with a Baltimore accent.
"Right off, she got this starring role in an adaptation of 'Camille,' and we didn't know if she would survive.
"With that Baltimore accent, you wouldn't think she could have a commanding stage presence, but she did. She was superb.
"Theater students can be harsh in their criticism, but even the bitchiest critics just loved her."
He thinks of her with nothing but affection, he said. He and Loeschke kept in touch over decades, he said. He saw her go from student to teacher to dean to college provost and later president. "And all along, she has had this very sincere modesty," he said.
The email he received announcing Loeschke's selection "was the best email I've received all year," said Allan Starkey, who appeared with Loeschke in "Lion in Winter" in 1986. "It's just wonderful."
Starkey now teaches education at TU after retiring from a career with Howard County teaching language arts.
"All the good things everyone has said about her are true," he said. "She just is that way. But she can be stern when she has to. She had dimples of iron. What she wants me to do, I'll do."
Observing the crowd of well-wishers, Rick Vatz, a professor of rhetoric and communication at TU who has been on the faculty for 37 years, implied Starkey shouldn't be concerned. Loeschke is "an exceptionally complex individual, but more than that, she has the best judgment I have ever seen," he said, whether it's academic matters, budgeting, conflict resolution or relating to the community.
"Judgment is everything," he said. "She is a wonderful choice for Towson University."