By Catherine Anderson ’24
Lee Manchester vividly recalls his first visit to campus in 2007.
“It looked like an ideal, lovely green oasis for a liberal arts college, with all the assets of the city across the harbor,” he said.
That would be the start of a 16-year career serving the Wagner community from the Office of Communications and Marketing until his June retirement.
In a recent interview, Manchester described a recent trip out west: “Driving through the incredibly beautiful emptiness of the high desert of western Nevada, Death Valley and the California Sierras, dropping in on ghost towns and small towns (not that there's all that much difference between the two) and seeing what that very different world really looks like.”
Manchester said he is incorporating that experience into a memoir-writing project.
“I've been thinking about moving to one of the little, mostly abandoned towns I visited last month,” Manchester said. “I have some pondering to do over the next few months.”
It’s a quieter life than the one Manchester led as Wagner’s chief chronicler from 2007 to 2023, a position for which he prepared by working for various newspapers.
“Working half-and-half in communications for an international non-profit and in the newspaper business at three different newspapers gave me a really great handle on managing communications and publications at Wagner, like the news site, the alumni magazine, and the Daily Bulletin,” said the former media relations director.
On campus, Manchester was a perfect fit.
“‘Lee Manchester,’” said Joseph Romano, former vice president for administration, in a past tribute to Manchester. “Even his name sounds like a newsman from the golden era of radio.”
Manchester arrived at the college the year before its 125th anniversary.
“I started digging into the college’s history to get a better handle on that for myself and organized different events that would occur during the anniversary commemoration in the fall of 2008,” Manchester recalled. “There is much more cohesiveness at Wagner than I have seen at most other places.”
Bonds forged during Irene and Sandy
That cohesiveness became especially apparent to Manchester when storms rocked the campus, forcing the evacuation of the students first for Hurricane Irene in 2011 and then a year later during Hurricane Sandy.
“Everybody at the college came together to do what was needed,” Manchester said. “We evacuated the entire freshman class to the Sutter Gym and camped out there. We had so many administrative staff members there from residential education, campus life, and the president and his wife.”
Manchester stayed with the freshmen and the administrators through it all.
“My job was to provide a steady stream of communications to Wagner parents and to the Wagner community who were not on-site,” he said.
To assure everyone that the campus and the students were safe where they were camped out in Sutter Gym, he shot brief videos and distributed them; every few hours, he sent out an update about the storm.
Manchester’s devotion to his work is missed by his colleagues.
“Over the years, we had fun playing on the legend of Lee Manchester, sender of the Daily
Bulletin and announcer of the eagerly awaited snow days,” said Laura Barlament, formerly of the marketing and communications department, in a tribute to Manchester. “I am so privileged to know the real Lee Manchester.”
At the end of 2016, Manchester had several heart attacks as a result of a congenital heart defect.
“I had to have open heart surgery the following summer. It was very serious surgery, and I was going to need a lot of help,” Manchester said. “No one in my family is nearby, so my family was the Wagner College community; professors Margarita Sanchez and Claire Regan, and my boss, Laura Barlament, formed ‘Team Lee’ to organize everyone on campus. Team Lee made sure I had visitors while in the hospital then came to make sure that I had meals and clean clothes.”
On the first day of classes in August, faculty and staff, including President Angelo Araimo, honored Manchester with a retirement reception in the Faculty Dining Room where a couple of dozen students serenaded Manchester with a rendition of “Beautiful Upon a Hill.”
“My job has been to tell the stories of Wagner people and what’s important to them,” Manchester said. “In the case of faculty members, it’s some of the stuff that is most important in their whole lives, their research careers.”
“To tell their stories, those people had to open up to me and that is a real risky process and they had to invest a lot of trust in me to open themselves up,” he concluded. “They gave very freely, which was the only way that I could have done my job. I feel so privileged to be part of a community like that.”
Catherine Anderson ’24 is Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Wagnerian, the college’s student newspaper. A version of this story first appeared in the November 13, 2023, edition of The Wagnerian. (See the Wagnerian archives here.)