Finding time: college president keeps work from eclipsing family

The Coor children -- Kendall, Colin, and Farryl -- have what amounts to a 400-acre backyard. Just a few steps from their door sprawl the broad lawns, tall trees, and august brick buildings of the University of Vermont.

Also just a few steps away, their father, Lattie Coor, occupies a gracious, oak-paneled office stocked with books and memorabilia.

For 10 years, Mr. Coor has been president of this 8,000-student university, a job that requires frequent travel, incessant meetings, and well-honed diplomatic skills. Although home is only a short stroll away, ``I'm out four to five nights a week,'' he laments.

Meanwhile, Coor's wife, Ina Fitzhenry-Coor, has her own demanding career as a psychologist with the department of psychiatry at UVM, as well as a serious interest in the piano.

Always hovering in the background are the multitudinous demands of the university, a place ``exquisitely designed for everyone to have a gripe,'' says its president with a laugh.

Inevitably, those gripes occasionally ripple through family life.

UVM has recently been the scene of protests over investment in South Africa, including the building of a shantytown on campus. Farryl remembers schoolmates telling her, ``I see your father's not doing too well.'' It bothered her, she admits, but says she was able to see that she has her own life apart from her father's position. That, she says, has helped her to take it less personally.

Still, ``he gets upset that the politics of his life get involved in our lives,'' observes Kendall.

Like business executives, public officials, and others whose work often takes extraordinary bites of time, Coor has wrestled with the problem of balancing professional and family life. And he thinks he's managed a victory of sorts, the key to which is a determination to make ``maximum use'' of the off-work hours available.

Easily said, of course. But as Coor and any other busy parent can attest, implementation takes both planning and flexibility.

Coor has tried in recent years to do something ``one on one'' with each of his children. One year it was a skiing trip with Kendall out West, ``just the two of us.'' Two years ago he and Colin spent a week canoeing in Maine. And just this summer Farryl joined her dad for a similar hiking and river journey in the north woods. That was her choice, since all these outings are thoroughly ``negotiated'' beforehand, says Coor.

``We make an effort to recognize, without superimposing things on the children, interests that are personally rewarding for all,'' he explains.

One of the family's more unusual interests is soaring, gliding through the blue in an unpowered aircraft. Coor took up the hobby years ago, finding in it an ideal release from the noisy administrative world below. In turn, each of his children have been lured by the quiet exhilaration of the sport.

Kendall, just out of college, is a licensed glider pilot. Colin, halfway through high school, will soon go up for his first solo flight. And Farryl, entering sixth grade, responds with a cheery, ``Yeah, I'm going to,'' when asked if she, too, plans to pilot a glider someday.

``Dad has already told me the basic way to use the plane,'' she adds. For now, however, Farryl has to be content with ``being the first passenger each season,'' says her father.

Soaring is itself a big commitment of time on weekends -- ``a day's event,'' as Kendall puts it, involving a two-hour round trip by car to Warren, Vt., where the airfield is located.

``He loves his work, but he's always tried to make family come first,'' says Kendall, a wiry young man with a head of wild blond hair, talking about his father.

For the most part, life on the doorstep of a campus has been positive, from the younger generation's point of view.

The two boys spent countless hours at UVM's computer center, a place that fostered both Kendall's interest in design and art and Colin's in electronic engineering.

Farryl has ridden her bike and walked the family's collie all through the well-kept expanse of lawn and buildings. The people at the campus dairy bar know her so well they often ``have my milkshake ready before I get there,'' she says, grinning.

Actually, from the perspective of family closeness, his decade at the helm of the university has been ``surprising,'' says Coor.

``Our personal lives when we took this job became substantially busier and more public, and at the same time our nuclear family became tighter, more central to the lives of all of us.''

``I wouldn't have predicted that,'' he admits.

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