Governor’s Awards in the Humanities

GovAward_2016-rgb-450pxCivic life in our Commonwealth is enriched by public figures whose actions and decision-making are grounded in an appreciation and understanding of the humanities. The Massachusetts Governor’s Awards in the Humanities recognize particularly notable contributors to this cause. Recipients recognize the centrality of the humanities to our national identity and ethic and they have championed the value of those disciplines through their various careers.

In addition to highlighting the important role of the public humanities in our society, the goal of the awards is to inspire all of our leaders and institutions to advance the values expressed in the mission of Mass Humanities by spotlighting the achievements of a few. The Governor’s Awards are presented at our annual benefit dinner.

Watch three short videos about each of the 2017 award recipients


Read about our three 2017 Honorees

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University. Gates has authored or co-authored twenty-one books and created seventeen documentary films. His six-part PBS documentary series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (2013), which he wrote, executive produced, and hosted, earned the Emmy Award for Outstanding Historical Program—Long Form, and many other honors. Gates’s latest film is the six-hour PBS documentary, Africa’s Great Civilizations (2017).

The recipient of fifty-five honorary degrees and numerous prizes, Gates was a member of the first class awarded “genius grants” by the MacArthur Foundation in 1981, and in 1998, he became the first African American scholar to be awarded the National Humanities Medal. He was named to Time’s 25 Most Influential Americans list in 1997, and to Ebony’s Power lists in 2009, 2010 and 2012. He serves on a wide array of boards, including the New York Public Library, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Aspen Institute, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Library of America, and the Brookings Institution.

Sacha Pfeiffer

Sacha Pfeiffer was a member of the Boston Globe Spotlight Team whose stories on the Catholic Church’s coverup of clergy sex abuse won them the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, among other honors. That reporting is the subject of the 2015 movie Spotlight, in which Pfeiffer is played by actress Rachel McAdams.

At the Globe, Pfeiffer has also produced investigative series on corporate boards, shoddy home construction, and financial abuses by charitable foundations; covered legal affairs and the Massachusetts courts; and written for the Sunday magazine, travel pages, and food section. She currently writes about wealth, philanthropy and nonprofits, and still does investigative work.

In the broadcast realm, Pfeiffer has been the host of “All Things Considered” and “Radio Boston” at WBUR, Boston’s NPR station, and a guest host of NPR’s nationally syndicated “On Point” and “Here & Now.” Her on-air work won a national 2012 Edward R. Murrow Award for broadcast reporting and numerous awards from the Associated Press and the Radio & Television News Directors Association.

David Starr

David Starr is the longest-serving news executive in the Advance Publications newspaper group (formerly Newhouse Publications) which, in addition to newspapers, owns Conde Nast magazines, the American City Business Journals and other publications. He was the longtime publisher and then president of the Springfield Republican.

Starr was the driving force in turning Springfield from a decaying downtown to a vibrant inner city in the 1980s and ‘90s. He was president of Springfield Central, the city’s downtown revitalization organization, from 1979 to 1995. Starr has been active in a number of Springfield organizations, including the Springfield Symphony, WGBY, and the Library and Museums Association. He was a founder of the Springfield Business Friends of the Arts as well as the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts and the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts. He served on the board of the Massachusetts Cultural Council for 31 years and was a director and chairman of the American Arts Alliance from 1989 to 1992. Drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942, Starr was a member of a unit in Austria that arrested several high-level Nazi officials at the end of World War II.

Watch three short videos about each of the 2016 award recipients


read about the 2016 honorees

Frieda Garcia

Frieda Garcia is a tireless activist and leader who has worked to ensure equal opportunity and access to programs that educate and inspire. A native of the Dominican Republic, she was the founding director of La Alianza Hispana in 1971 and became president of United South End Settlements in 1981. For the next twenty years, she oversaw development of new programs in adult education and training, housing services, computer technology and cultural enrichment.

Garcia has contributed to countless efforts to improve civic life in the City of Boston, most notably as board member and chair of The Boston Foundation and life trustee of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. She has served on over 70 non-profit boards, including as a founding director of the Mass Humanities board from 1974-1976.

As chair of the Friends of the Harriet Tubman Park on Columbus Avenue, she oversaw the park’s redesign in 1999, including the first statue to a woman on City of Boston property—a 10-foot sculpture of Harriet Tubman. Among her many other awards and honors, in 2013 a new park at Clarendon and Stanhope streets was named Frieda Garcia Park.

Atul Gawande

Atul Gawande champions humanism in healthcare through his work as a surgeon, writer, and public health researcher. He practices general and endocrine surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He is a professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Samuel O. Thier Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School. He is also executive director of Ariadne Labs, a joint center for health systems innovation, and chair of Lifebox, an organization making surgery safer globally.

Gawande has been a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine since 1998 and has written four New York Times bestsellers: Complications, Better, The Checklist Manifesto, and most recently, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. Since 2003, hospital workers participating in Mass Humanities’ Literature & Medicine program have read his essays from the Annals of Medicine and The New Yorker, as well as excerpts from his books. Among other awards, Gawande has won two National Magazine Awards, a MacArthur Fellowship, and the Lewis Thomas Award for Writing about Science.

Lia Poorvu

Lia Poorvu has worked as a teacher, volunteer, and organizer to improve dozens of cultural institutions in and around Boston. She taught French for 40 years, the last 25 at Tufts University. She chaired the Friends of both the Wellesley College and Harvard libraries. She has been a proponent of preservation of historic collections at the Boston Public Library, the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe, and the Massachusetts Historic Society. At Facing History and Ourselves, the French Library, the Jewish Historic Society, the Museum of Fine Arts, and WGBH, as well as several small classical music organizations, she has encouraged the preservation and interpretation of our culture.

As a trustee of Wellesley College, Poorvu has championed its commitment to the humanities as part of a strong liberal arts curriculum for women. She was decorated twice by the French Government for connecting Boston public school students in exchanges with the Council of Europe and Boston’s sister city, Strasbourg. For 10 years, she was president of the Adolescent Consultation Services.

Poorvu draws inspiration from her idol, Eleanor Roosevelt, whose life she works to commemorate.

Watch three short videos about each of the 2015 award recipients


read about the 2015 honorees

Margaret H. Marshall

Margaret H. Marshall former Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, is currently senior counsel at Choate Hall & Stewart LLP. Appointed Chief Justice in 1999, she was the first woman to serve in that position. During her tenure on the Supreme Judicial Court, Chief Justice Marshall wrote more than three hundred opinions, many of them ground-breaking, including Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, which declared that the Massachusetts Constitution prohibits the state from denying same-sex couples access to civil marriage. This 2003 ruling made Massachusetts the first state to recognize marriage equality. Since her undergraduate years when she was elected president of the National Union of South African Students in her home country, Chief Justice Marshall has been involved in professional and community activities, and she is the recipient of many awards and honorary degrees.

The Lowell Institute

The Lowell Institute has sponsored free public lectures and other educational programs throughout the Boston area since its founding in 1836 by businessman John Lowell, Jr. Over the decades thousands of members of our community have attended Lowell lectures on topics ranging from science to the arts to humanities, from literature to politics to world affairs. The Lowell Institute’s mission since its inception—to inform the populace regardless of gender, race, or economic status—has also led to the establishment of other great Boston institutions such as the Harvard Extension School and WGBH. Lowell Institute presenting organizations have included many Mass Humanities grantees, partners, and sponsors. William A. Lowell, the Trustee of the Institute and partner at Choate Hall & Stewart LLP , will accept the award on behalf of the Institute.

Margot Stern Strom

Margot Stern Strom is now president emerita and senior scholar of Facing History and Ourselves, after almost four decades as the founding executive director and president. This organization received grant support from Mass Humanities in its formative years and went on to become one of the most successful grantees thanks to Strom’s vision and leadership. She has enabled millions of students to study the steps that led to the Holocaust and genocide and to investigate the root causes of racism, anti-Semitism, bigotry, and violence, as they realize their obligations and capabilities as citizens. Strom has authored many articles and books on moral and civic education, including Facing History & Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior and Raising a Moral Child. She chaired the Harvard/Facing History and Ourselves Project. Strom credits her husband Terry and her children and grandchildren for informing her work.

Watch four short videos about each of the 2014 award recipients



read about the 2014 honorees

Jill Ker Conway

Jill Ker Conway opened the doors of Smith College to older women and launched the Ada Comstock Scholars program during her time as the school’s first female president. Her distinguished career includes scholarly investigations of feminism and the role of women in history, autobiographies and memoirs of notable women from around the world, as well as her own memoirs and the children’s book, Felipe the Flamingo. An Australian by birth, she won the respect of our nation’s highest honor in our field when she was awarded the 2012 National Medal in the Humanities from President Barack Obama.

Hubert E. Jones

Hubert E. Jones led investigations into exclusion in the Boston public school system in the late 1960s, which resulted in our country’s first ever special education and bi-lingual education laws. His moral compass was guided by the humanities and he has spent his career in their service, forming, rebuilding, and leading dozens of organizations. From his time as dean of the Boston College School of Social Work to his most recent commitment to beginning the Boston Children’s Chorus, Hubie Jones has facilitated the growth and expansion of the humanities in our Commonwealth, including a two-year term on the board of Mass Humanities.

Father J. Donald Monan

Father J. Donald Monan served on the National Endowment for the Humanities committee that led to the establishment of the organization we know today as Mass Humanities. His leadership in higher education moved Boston College into its current prestigious position and his passion for Aristotelian ethics has informed his many contributions to the common good in Massachusetts and beyond. Fr. Monan’s pursuits of diplomacy, jurisprudence, and racial justice have succeeded in changing public policy and bettering lives.

Malcom Rogers

Malcom Rogers broadened public engagement with the arts through his twenty-year tenure as the Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. He has expanded the museum’s reach through growing its collections—perhaps most notably opening the Art of the Americas Wing—presenting innovative exhibitions, and enhancing its educational programs. The MFA’s hours changed to heighten attendance under his watch and he famously renovated the entrances to the buildings to welcome more museum-goers. Now more than 1 million visitors each year experience the MFA’s internationally renowned collections and programming.