By Michael Reardon
When Maggie Sullivan Wilderotter '77 first stepped onto the Holy Cross campus in 1973, the College had been coed for only one year. Instead of feeling intimidated, however, the self-described "trailblazer" and "pioneer," saw only opportunity.
"Trying new things is in my DNA," she says. "I was not apprehensive. I felt we women could add value to change the College for the better."
Besides, Wilderotter joked, having more men than women on campus was terrific for a young coed's social life.
"The ratio of guys to girls was a very good thing," she says.
A high tech industry veteran, Wilderotter has been chairman and chief executive officer of Citizens Communications since Jan. 1, 2006. She had joined the company on Nov. 1, 2004 as president and chief executive officer and, also, as a member of its board of directors.
The Stamford, Conn.-based Citizens Communications is a full-service communications provider of telephone, television and Internet products and services.
Prior to joining Citizens, Wilderotter had held the post of senior vice president of the worldwide public sector at Microsoft.
During her career, she has served as president and chief executive officer of Wink Communications Inc. as well as executive vice president of national operations for AT&T Wireless Services Inc. and chief executive officer of AT&T's aviation communications division. Previously, Wilderotter had worked as senior vice president of McCaw Cellular Communications Inc.; as a regional president, she had managed the company's California, Nevada and Hawaii regions.
An economics major at Holy Cross, Wilderotter is a current member of the College's Board of Trustees. She also serves on the board of directors of The McClatchy Co. and the Xerox Corporation, and, in addition, of several non-profit organizations.
As a member of the Holy Cross Board, Wilderotter believes it is important to sustain and strengthen the College's mission of being a "faith-based, Jesuit institution"—as well as to maintain small-class sizes, strong academics and a foundation in social responsibility. She also feels it is crucial for Holy Cross to extend that appeal throughout the United States and overseas in order to create a more diverse student body and faculty.
"Not just diversity of race and gender," she says, "but also of schools of thought."
While a student on Mount St. James, Wilderotter learned the value of giving back to society, teaching low-income women and teenagers in Worcester to type and take stenography—key skills for females of that era seeking to enter the business world. By the time the courses ended, all of Wilderotter's students had jobs.
"Holy Cross challenges students," she says, "not just academically, but also in social responsibility and in the ability to build relationships."
While at Holy Cross, Wilderotter was pressed into service one night as a radio color commentator during a Crusaders basketball game. Her fellow announcer, Brian Leary '77, knew she was an avid sports fan and that she would be a terrific broadcaster, despite her nervousness.
Wilderotter became a great success in this endeavor at Holy Cross, eventually hosting her own show, featuring women artists—as well as serving as the head of sports radio; she also continued her color commentary and play-by-play work for basketball, baseball and hockey games.
Wilderotter later interviewed for a radio job in Phoenix, but the low salary and midnight-to-morning shift prevented her from accepting the position. Nevertheless, she learned valuable lessons from her experience behind the microphone.
"In College, I discovered I had a sense of adventure," Wildrotter says. "Holy Cross taught me to explore and to try new things. I discovered that I thrive in that environment."
Who is the biggest inspiration in your life?
My husband, Jay. We've been married 28 years and we've known each other for 35 years. We met when we were 12 years old at a beach club on the Jersey Shore. He's a very good person and very grounded. He has been my rock throughout my adult life.
Do you have a favorite book, movie or other work of art?
I admire anything by Robert Altman. I was very pleased to see him honored at the Academy Awards. He created the genre of reality movies where the dialogue is spoken as it is in real life.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I have a pretty strong sense of humor, and I don't take myself too seriously. I like to have a good time. The joy of laughter is totally underrated.
Why did you choose to attend Holy Cross?
A couple of reasons. My father was Jesuit-educated. My older sister, Denise, went to Boston College. I wanted a Jesuit education, and Holy Cross was smaller and more intimate than BC. Also, John O'Connell, my guidance counselor at Long Branch High School, was a Holy Cross graduate and spoke very highly about the school.
- Birthplace and Date: Neptune, N.J., on Feb. 9, 1955; grew up in nearby Long Branch, N.J.
- Current Homes: Darien, Conn., and Oakland, Calif.
- Family: Husband, Jay; and sons, Christopher, 21, and Daniel, 19