Getting to know President Lapidus

By Danielle Blondin

President Richard S. Lapidus
President Richard S. Lapidus

It takes a small army to run Fitchburg State, and at the forefront of that army is Dr. Richard Lapidus, who stepped into the role as president of the University this past July. Not surprisingly, his day-to-day life as president could be described as slightly “crazy.” Says Lapidus, “I’m nonstop. There’s never enough time in the day, and the schedule that you start off with at the beginning of the day is never the one you finish with at the end of the day. I go home and my gears are still turning.” Running a university, according to Lapidus, is a 24/7 job and occupies as many nights and weekends as it does weekdays.
Lapidus has spent much of his first year at Fitchburg State learning as much as he can about the University, and “figuring out how the place works.” He noted that Fitchburg State’s community is strong and incredibly welcoming, much different from the larger campuses he spent previous years at. “One of the things that I liked most when I interviewed [at Fitchburg State] that I can honestly tell you does not exist on most campuses is the family feel to it,” Lapidus said. “The campuses I have been on before are much larger and more bureaucratic. Not the same feel at all.”
Part of getting to know Fitchburg State has included attending a plethora of campus events and activities. “I’ve been to a variety of sporting events, I’ve been to a play down in McKay, we did Pizza with the President, I’ve been to musical shows in the Hub,” said Lapidus. And – even better – he says he really enjoys them. In addition to his involvement on the Fitchburg State campus, Lapidus is also heavily invested in the greater Fitchburg community. He sits on the board of the Fitchburg Art Museum, will be sitting on the boards of the Sizer School, Chamber of Commerce and also a local homeless shelter. “Part of my responsibility is to make sure that the resources we have [at Fitchburg State] benefit not only us here on this campus, but also the community,” Lapidus said.
The question that is always on the minds of Fitchburg State students is what it’s like to live in the stunning President’s house just off of Cedar Street. According to Lapidus, many of the features of the house, including the pocket doors and the stained-glass windows, were saved from the original house and reinserted when the house was rebuilt. “It’s a neat house,” he said. “When it was renovated, the outside resembles exactly what it would have looked like if it was built for the first time in the 1800s. It’s a really beautiful hybrid.” The President’s house provides a unique situation for Lapidus and his family, as they did not live so close to other campuses previously, but he says he truly likes the proximity to campus. “I like living in the house because it connects me to the neighborhood in which many of our students live and that’s a big part of it,” he said.
Lapidus is originally from New York, but moved with his family to California to work at another university before coming to us at Fitchburg State. In addition to learning the ropes of a new university, Lapidus has also had to readjust to New England – or maybe just Massachusetts – culture. The first question is, of course, whether or not the word “wicked” has worked its way into his vocabulary yet. Despite spending many summers on the Cape and being familiar with the general usage of “wicked” in this region, Lapidus remains curious about where the word even came from. “Even in the ‘70s, the use of the word ‘wicked’ was part of the language. In the traditional use of the English language, it makes no sense,” he said with a laugh. “No one would say that anywhere else in the country. It never worked into my language usage.” Lapidus also mentioned that it takes significantly longer to get from one place to another here in Massachusetts than it does in California, despite Massachusetts being much more compact. “Plus, the street name changes on you,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve never made so many 180-degree turns.”
Although we know Lapidus as our University president, he’s also just a regular person who likes dogs and jazz music. “I have two dogs, and they are both a breed that is kind of rare. They’re bright white, little 12-to-14 pounders,” he said. “Apparently, they were the favorite dog breed of pirates because they have an unusual tendency to dance around on their hind legs.” They must have worked their way into the hearts of Lapidus and his family as well, because they only had one dog originally and quickly adopted a second. As for his taste in music, Lapidus admitted to having a bit of a taste for trendy country music. “Perhaps if it’s new country, but if it gets too yodel-y or becomes the tear-in-the beer type of thing, then that’s not quite it for me,” he said. “I actually do listen to people like Willy Nelson and Johnny Cash, but usually a lot of jazz and the blues.”
Even if you haven’t yet met President Lapidus, you may know his friendly assistant, Gail Doiron. She essentially acts as Lapidus’s daily task manager and keeps him on track with his schedule. “Typically I come in and get the calendar printed out, and then the president comes in. I let him hang up his coat and show him the schedule for the day, and tell him if anything came up during the night,” Doiron said. “Once we talk about the day, then we start the day.” Like the president, Doiron said she truly values her position on the Fitchburg State campus and feels that the best part of her job is being able to help students. “I feel that it is a privilege to work in the President’s Office,” she said. “This office is the problem-solving place, and I feel that whoever walks in the door needs my undivided attention to make sure that they know that we care.” And her feelings on the new president? “He has a calm demeanor, he’s thoughtful, he listens,” she said. “I think he’s wonderful.”