Joe Biden Lauds Ursuline Hall of Famers – Including His Sister

Calling “Serviam” the motto that they live by, six graduates of Ursuline Academy proudly joined the ranks of other distinguished alumnae at their induction into the school’s Hall of Fame on March 11. The auditorium was filled to capacity as families, faculty and other grads joined to celebrate and honor women who have made differences large and small in the communities where they live, across the nation and around the globe.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden made a surprise appearance at the brunch to pay tribute to his sister, inductee Valerie Biden Owens. No one knew that Biden would be attending the ceremony, and he stayed long after its conclusion to congratulate each of the awardees. 

Valerie Biden Owens

Owens was introduced by her daughter Missy, who said it is not unusual for a daughter to be proud of her mother. But she said her mother has a special gift in the way that she, “Inspires and gives wings to those around her. She helps us all to fly.”

The former vice president’s sister has a long list of her own accomplishments. Owens was the first woman to run a US Senate campaign, a senior executive with a media company, a senior advisor to the United Nations 71st General Assembly, a high school teacher, and a resident fellow and teacher at the Kennedy School of Government. She is now the vice chair of the Biden Institute at the University of Delaware and vice chair of the Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children

Owens had great fun in accepting her award. “Holy cow!” she exclaimed as she wondered aloud why her graduation year (’63) had to be included in the program. She fondly remembered her years at Ursuline and is proud the school continues to follow its mission.  “Its walls are thick and protective, as if to nurture the precious goods that roam through its corridors – that is the hearts and minds and the spirit of its young girls who come here to learn and grow into responsible and kind women.”

Kristie Robson

Kristie Robson (’91) serves our country as a Commander in the US Navy.  The energetic, humorous and self-assured Ursuline grad is currently a Fleet Marine Force medical officer and naval flight surgeon who has been deployed five times – including to Iraq and Afghanistan – serving in shock trauma platoons. She has provided global medical care on the hospital ship throughout Central and South America and flown patients to higher levels of care in the back of a helicopter. And she has she taught trauma medical care in countries around the globe, including Ghana, Nigeria, Brunei, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Jordan.

Robson, who relies on keen organizational skills and foresight to care for Sailors and Marines, told the audience that she has never stopped living the Serviam motto. “I keep thinking of leadership at all times. Serviam is my ethos.”

Ursuline science teacher Eileen Koenig, who proudly introduced Robson at the Distinguished Alumnae Hall of Fame breakfast, said Robson’s picture on the wall at school – wearing her service uniform – is a reminder of the job she has to do at Ursuline. “I think of her as my guardian angel,” said Koenig.

Megan Manlove McGlinchey

The Riverfront Development Corporation of Delaware appointed Megan Manlove McGlinchey (’90) to the role of Executive Director in November, 2016, when former RDC Exec. Dir. Mike Purzycki was elected Mayor of Wilmington. McGlinchey was introduced by her poised and thoughtful daughter Norah, who noted that her mom gives back to her community by serving on several nonprofit boards, including the Delaware Zoological Society, the March of Dimes-Delaware and the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation. “My mom has a joyous spirit,” remarked Norah.

Noting that the idea of volunteerism was firmly rooted in her home life, McGlinchey dedicated her Hall of Fame award to her parents. “Giving back to the community was a fundamental part of my experience. My parents were living examples of living the Serviam motto.”

Robin Toner

Robin Toner (’72) was the first female national political correspondent for the New York Times. In her nearly 25 years with the Times, Robin covered five presidential campaigns, dozens of Congressional and gubernatorial campaigns and the country’s major political and policy issues. She was the Times’ lead reporter on the 1992 presidential election of Bill Clinton and was one of the most authoritative journalists covering health care policy and politics.

Sadly, Toner died at the age of 54 of cancer. Jane Toner (Ursuline ’66) proudly accepted the Hall of Fame award in her sister’s honor.  Jane attributed her sister’s success to her love of reading. “Robin was always a voracious reader. Every time we spoke, she always made me run to the dictionary.” She added that Robin once won a journalism contest, and the top prize was a copy of the Encyclopedia Britannica. “She then proceeded to read the entire Encyclopedia!” In their 2008 obituary, The New York Times called her ‘relentless’ and ‘one of the best.’

Jane said that Robin knew early on that she wanted to be a writer in a profession that in the 70’s and 80’s was still very much a man’s world and credited her strong academic foundation at Ursuline for helping to propel her to the top of her profession.

Mary McDonough

New Castle County Family Court Judge Mary McDonough (’71) says Delaware has a human trafficking problem and has focused her career on combating the issue. She started a special program in 2012 to help victims of human trafficking in the Court of Common Pleas and was vocal about her concerns about this underserved constituency on Sunday. “I think we need a paradigm shift in the way we think about human trafficking and the fact that the victims are often to blame.”

Having served in the public sector since her admission to the Delaware Bar in 1978, McDonough has served as a legal services attorney for low-income Delawareans, a federal prosecutor, and as Nominations Counsel for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee when then-Senator Biden chaired the Committee.

McDonough was the first distinguished alumna to receive the Hall of Fame award. “With this award I appreciate that you are acknowledging our important work toward eradicating human trafficking.”

Jessie Woolley-Wilson

Several extended family members and a large contingent from the class of ’81 turned out to support Harvard Business School alumna Jessie Woolley-Wilson’s induction into Ursuline’s Hall of Fame. Woolley-Wilson is the president and CEO of DreamBox Learning, Inc., which offers an adaptive learning platform for kids who struggle with math. Woolley-Wilson was introduced by her sister Phyllis G. Mobley (UA ’78). “In the eight years since taking the helm at DreamBox, she has positively transformed the lives of children especially those under economic hardship,” said Mobley.

Woolley-Wilson said her mission at DreamBox is less about the new technology and more about changing lives. “I really feel that in unlocking learning potential, it’s great for communities, it’s great for our nation and it’s great for our world. We have to go out of our way to make sure children know that somebody sees their spark.”

Mobley also shared that Woolley-Wilson has endured cancer twice and yet continues on a determined and auspicious path, enriching the lives of everyone around her. “Her house is permeated with laughter, love and light. She is a study of grace and positivism.”

Woolley-Wilson fondly remembered her family and the many schoolmates and teachers who influenced her years at Ursuline. “I had amazing parents and an amazing life here at Ursuline. I feel that my work to unlock the learning of every child is rooted and sprouted in the everyday lessons I learned here at Ursuline Academy.”

While her reflections on the past were poignant, Woolley-Wilson also remains optimistic about the future. “With the right leadership and a little bit of courage, imagine if we all locked arms and made this democracy what it was destined to be.”


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About the Contributor

Christy Fleming

Christy Fleming

The managing editor of TownSquareDelaware.com, Christy Fleming also supports a variety of non-profit initiatives in Delaware. Her background includes positions in public relations, advertising and journalism.

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