Mary Pope Hutson Named 14th President of Sweet Briar College

The campus of Sweet Briar College.
The campus of Sweet Briar College.
The campus of Sweet Briar College.

Posted on November 30, 2023

The Sweet Briar Board of Directors announced today that it has unanimously selected Mary Pope Maybank Hutson as the College’s next president. Currently serving as interim president since July, Hutson was chosen following a national search that began in March of this year. A member of the class of 1983, Hutson is the College’s first alumna president.

Board Chair Mason Rummel said in a statement, “After a meticulous and thorough process, led by a committed group of stakeholder representatives and under the expert guidance of our search firm, Russell Reynolds Associates, I am delighted with the Board’s overwhelming and unanimous support of Mary Pope as Sweet Briar’s next president. Not only does she embody the spirit and ethos of our beloved college, but she is also resolute in her determination to lead Sweet Briar to new heights as the leader in women’s higher education.”

Mary Pope Hutson Mary Pope Hutson ’83, the 14th President of Sweet Briar CollegeAs president, Hutson will steer the strategic direction and planning for the future of the College, as well as oversee its operations to ensure Sweet Briar’s ongoing viability and success. Sweet Briar College is a residential liberal arts college for women, made up of a vibrant community centered on an innovative, broad-based curriculum designed to forge ethical women leaders. Hutson will champion what is prized and unique about Sweet Briar — its integration of the liberal arts with a women’s leadership core curriculum — which prepares its graduates for the complexities and challenges of today’s world.

Hutson, who served as Sweet Briar’s senior vice president for alumnae relations and development for the past eight years, has dramatically increased alumnae engagement and financial support for the College, having brought extensive experience to the job from her long career in both the public and private sectors. Prior to her position at Sweet Briar, Hutson served as the executive vice president of the Land Trust Alliance (2002-2015), a national conservation organization that works to save and strengthen land conservation across America. The Land Trust Alliance (LTA) represents more than 1,100-member land trusts, including 25 national conservation groups, and is supported by more than 5 million members nationwide. Hutson made an immense impact on the American landscape and conservation leadership through her work with the LTA and its members, leading the coalition’s efforts to pass permanent tax incentives for land conservation, raising significant philanthropy, and inspiring conservation leaders.

Will Shafroth, President and CEO of the National Park Foundation, who also served as the Department of Interior’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks under the Obama administration, said, “As a leader in the conservation community for more than 20 years, Mary Pope Hutson accomplished significant gains for our nation’s open space and parks. As the new head of Sweet Briar College, she will bring her formidable leadership and community-building skills to firmly establish this great school as one of our nation’s finest.”

With extensive experience in historic preservation and land conservation, Hutson’s passions are imbued with protecting and conserving the built and natural environment. Prior to her tenure at Land Trust Alliance, she was executive director of the Lowcountry Open Land Trust in South Carolina (1998-2002). She also served as the director of educational programs for the Historic Charleston Foundation, managing the oldest heritage tourism program in the United States (1993-1998).

Hutson also has a background in public service and policymaking, having worked in the office of a U.S. Senator, and for the Department of the Interior as a liaison for the Office of Territorial and International Affairs to St. Thomas, as Guam Desk Officer, and in the Office of the Assistant Secretary (1985-1989). In 1990, Hutson was appointed by the White House as special assistant to the Ambassador of Kenya.

“Mary Pope Hutson is an exceptional choice for President of Sweet Briar College,” said the Honorable Robert V. Royall Jr., former ambassador to Tanzania. “Her leadership skills and deep experience throughout a highly successful career of excellence, including her years of service to Sweet Briar, assure a great future for this splendid College. I join her many admirers and friends in saluting Mary Pope and Sweet Briar’s Board on this special occasion.”

Throughout her career, she has served in numerous volunteer leadership roles, including as the Chairwoman of the National Park Service System Advisory Board for the last four years, appointed by U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. She also served four Secretaries of Interior on the North American Wetlands Council, was appointed by Governor David Beasley as the first woman to serve on the Board of Natural Resources in South Carolina, and most recently, was appointed by Governor Glenn Youngkin to the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Board of Historic Resources in July of this year. She also currently serves on the board of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya.

In 2015, when Sweet Briar College was threatened with closure, Hutson joined thousands of volunteers in the Saving Sweet Briar campaign, leading the efforts to raise funds from major donors to meet the terms of the settlement agreement. She served on the Board of Directors immediately following the successful efforts to save Sweet Briar. She joined the College’s staff in January of 2016 as vice president, leading the alumnae relations and development team.

“Persuading Mary Pope Hutson to join our administration was critical to our success in restoring Sweet Briar to fiscal strength,” said Phillip C. Stone, former board chair of SACS and Sweet Briar’s 12th president. “She understands every aspect of college administration and programming and is clearly ready to lead Sweet Briar to greatness.”

Upon returning to Sweet Briar in 2016, Hutson said, “The gifts of my Sweet Briar education to my life have been pivotal in my career and in my ability to give back to my community and my college, and I know we all need to be part of educating and mentoring young people while ensuring the sustainability of Sweet Briar for the next century.”

That statement still holds true, as Hutson has been leading staff efforts to raise significant funds for the College and lay the groundwork for a comprehensive campaign for Sweet Briar. Under her leadership, the College has raised more than $140 million since 2015.

“The board has made a shrewd choice in selecting Mary Pope Hutson as President of Sweet Briar,” said Meredith Woo, Sweet Briar’s 13th president. “Mary Pope is one of the most brilliant individuals I have worked with. Creative and strategic, she is a preternatural problem-solver, gifted at finding elegant solutions to highly vexing challenges. Higher education faces so many problems that it did not know existed. I have no doubt that she will tackle them with a kind of tenacity and genius that has served Sweet Briar well since she returned to campus in 2016.”

Woo continued, “I also know, as does the rest of the campus, the quality of her commitment to her alma mater. It is strong, unwavering, and magnificent, like the person herself. At this point in its history Sweet Briar couldn’t have found a better leader than Mary Pope, and I am overjoyed at the outcome of the presidential search.”

Hutson has served Sweet Briar since her student days, when she was a student leader and a nationally-ranked varsity tennis player. After graduation, she stayed involved through Friends of Athletics and was president and fund agent for her class. In 2012, she earned a spot in Sweet Briar’s Athletics Hall of Fame.

Hutson’s service to Sweet Briar is characterized by her tireless efforts to develop opportunities for its community — faculty, staff, students, parents, alumnae and friends — to engage with the College as partners in its continuous renewal. Hutson is well known among the Sweet Briar community for soliciting advice and encouraging participation as stakeholders in Sweet Briar’s future. As interim president, she has worked to expand this outreach by revitalizing relationships and partnerships with local, state and federal government, nearby colleges and universities, and educational organizations such as the Women’s College Coalition.