Gretchen Hartnack Milligan '69 Named Marlborough's 2014 Woman of the Year

“What I see when I come back to campus are happy, smart girls enjoying life and each other and learning and doing for themselves and doing for others,” Milligan says. “Some things never change.”

Even though Gretchen Milligan ’69 entered Marlborough as a high school senior, she felt instantly at home and welcomed on campus. “I felt like the new kid for only one day or two,” Milligan says, adding that the other girls and their families were quick to embrace her as a Violet.

As an L.A. native who came from a long line of Angelenos, Milligan actually spent most of her childhood in San Diego, where she attended public school. When a job opportunity for her father led her family back to L.A. right in time for her senior year, Milligan’s mother hoped she would go “where all smart girls go.” That place was Marlborough School, and Milligan says she felt fortunate to be accepted there. “It could have been a very lonely and anonymous existence for me,” says Milligan, referring to the experience of starting a new school in a different city. “Instead, Marlborough showed me what it’s like to experience a real community in a school, and made L.A. feel a little bit smaller.”

Milligan thrived socially and academically at Marlborough, and enjoyed the rigor and challenges of the curriculum and the high caliber of her peers. English class with Miss Carnes, in particular, made an impression. “She opened up what the study of the English language is all about, and I was shocked by how other students pulled the texts apart for meaning and analysis. I had never approached reading books like that before.”

Milligan had always dreamed of attending Stanford University, and that dream came true, not only as an undergraduate but also as a graduate student, where she pursued an M.B.A. She says she graduated at an opportune time for women.

“Not only were all graduate schools accepting women, but they were seeking women, and that was a big change,” she says, noting many of her classmates at Stanford went on to become doctors, lawyers, and business executives. “We didn’t have a chip on our shoulder about not having opportunities, so we were lucky for that.”

Milligan became a commercial banker and one of the first women to manage accounts in the Midwest. “I was traveling a lot, which was cutting edge at the time,” she says. Ultimately, she wanted to work with California companies, and eventually landed a job running the Wells Fargo main branch in Ventura.

She then became a mother of two daughters (20 months apart in age) and focused her attention on raising her children. She also became very active in her community, serving as a board member for various organizations. After a phone call from Hal Borthwick, husband of her former classmate, Maribeth Armstrong Borthwick ’73, who encouraged her to become more involved with the School, Milligan ultimately joined the board at Marlborough as well.

“When Hal asked me to be on the board, I felt a little embarrassed. I was only at Marlborough a short time and didn’t have all the memories that everyone else did. But a fellow board member, Maureen Haight Gee ’74, told me, ‘It doesn’t matter how long you were at Marlborough. You will always be a Violet.’”

In recognition of her commitment to Marlborough, Milligan was honored as the “Woman of the Year” for 2014. “It’s an unbelievable honor. It makes me burst with purple pride and it’s truly humbling since there are so many able Violets,” she says.

Milligan currently lives in Santa Barbara, where she consults for boards of trustees at nonprofit organizations, but still comes back to Marlborough from time to time. “What I see when I come back to campus are happy, smart girls enjoying life and each other and learning and doing for themselves and doing for others,” Milligan says. “Some things never change.”

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