Longtime trustee and Emerson alumna dies

by Allison Hagan / Beacon Staff • February 23, 2017

Irma Mann Stearns had a profound dedication to Emerson—mentoring countless students and displaying every award and achievement she received from the college in her home.

“She never hesitated to talk about the college to anyone who would listen,” said Jeffrey Greenhawt, chairman of the Board of Trustees.

Mann Stearns, longtime Emerson trustee and 1967 cum laude graduate, died Feb. 14.

Known for her leadership and dedication to the college, Mann Stearns was on the Board of Trustees for 15 years, President M. Lee Pelton wrote in an email to the community.  Serving as chair from 1994 to 1996, she prioritized the completion of the historic Cutler Majestic Theatre.

Greenhawt said he first met Mann Stearns when she was an enthusiastic student, always asking her professors questions.

She had a big heart and was always looking to help, Greenhawt said.

“She didn’t take anything at face value,” Greenhawt said. “She wanted to know about everything there was to know about.”

When the two met again in the 1990s, Greenhawt said Mann Stearns was the reason he joined the Board of Trustees. She taught him how to run a board and how the college operates, he said.

“I said that I didn’t have the time [for the board],” he said. “She sat me down and said, ‘You can never use that as an excuse, that you don’t have enough time to volunteer or do something you should or want to do. You learn in life that you need to make time to do those things.’”

In 1992, she and her late husband set up the Norman and Irma Mann Stearns Distinguished Faculty Award to recognize and financially support scholarly achievement for full-time faculty. Emerson awarded her an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters the same year.

The couple helped establish the first health communication graduate program between Emerson and the School of Medicine at Tufts University.

Mann Stearns also started the Irma S. Mann Strategic Marketing Lecture Series in 1996.

Earlier in her career, Mann Stearns founded and ran S/I/A Advertising, a subsidiary owned by Sonesta International Hotels Corp and now the largest woman-owned marketing agency in New England, Pelton wrote.

She received several of awards in the field of hospitality advertising and marketing, including the American Hotel & Motel Association’s Gold Medal in U.S. Marketing and Advertising.

“She was a really special lady,” Greenhawt said. “She had a great love for the college.”