CAS In Memoriam: Memories of Marybeth

August, 2018 - CAS Past President, Laura Dean, shares memories of CAS Executive Director, Dr. Marybeth Drechsler Sharp.
Laura Dean - Past President (2011-2014), Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS)

Marybeth Joy Drechsler Sharp, 1978-2018

Any individual is like a prism; everyone they encounter sees them at a slightly different angle and in a slightly different light.  In remembering someone who has passed, each of us has memories that reflect a particular view through the prism, with a set of vibrant colors and images distinct to that view.

Marybeth Joy Drechsler Sharp was many things in her short but full life:  daughter, sister, aunt, wife, friend, colleague, mentor, leader, scholar, teacher, confidant, cheerleader, advocate, inspiration, and so much more. She is mourned and missed by people far and wide, and since her passing in June, it has been clear what a difference she made while she was here.

I can't speak to all of the people, places, and entities that are better because of Marybeth, but the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) will forever bear her imprint and will long benefit from the time she spent with us.  Marybeth joined CAS in 2012, only the second Executive Director in CAS history and the first to be full-time.  She stepped in at a time that was both difficult and crucial.  CAS was planning for the first Executive Director, Phyllis Mable, to step down, and had identified Marybeth as her successor; in fact, Marybeth had attended the spring Board meeting that year and had been introduced as the next Executive Director.  One of my enduring memories is of her, near the end of that meeting, sitting with Phyllis, listening intently, and wordlessly assuring her that CAS would be in good hands.  Sadly, the smooth transition we hoped for did not occur.  Just a few weeks before the transition would have happened, Phyllis was hospitalized and passed quickly.  We called Marybeth, who was preparing for her doctoral graduation from the University of Maryland, and asked her to step in early.  She graciously agreed. It was then that we began to see the particular blend of gifts and skills that we would come to appreciate more fully over time.

Phyllis was not only the first Executive Director of CAS; she was one of the founders and had been one of the most recognizable faces of CAS throughout its history. Everyone who had ever served on the Board had worked with Phyllis, and she was known throughout the field. Colleagues far and wide, but particularly those on the Board, were shocked and mourning her loss.  At the same time, the work of CAS needed to go on.  There were meetings to plan, calls to answer, book orders to process, bills to pay… and no transition information at all.  Marybeth came on board, figured things out (not without considerable challenge), and was soon able to manage the business of CAS. At the same time, though, she recognized how much those of us around her were grieving, and she supported us with empathy and gentleness.  This blend of pragmatism and sensitivity was quintessentially Marybeth.

In the thirty-some years leading up to this, including those with Phyllis at the helm, CAS had laid a firm foundation for the organization and its work; Marybeth quickly became instrumental in helping CAS to build on that foundation and create not only a vision for the future, but the structure to get us there.  Her leadership was essential in helping CAS restructure its financial processes, examine and address issues of legal compliance, redesign the website and create a member portal, explore partnership with Campus Labs, consider new products and formats, identify efficiencies in meeting planning, and eventually shift CAS from being based in a physical headquarters to being a primarily online entity.  She valued and honored CAS history and traditions while also pushing us to think about how the CAS mission could be realized in new and different ways going forward.  Admittedly, we didn't always make that easy, and she had her moments of frustration, but they stemmed from her genuine love of CAS, commitment to its success, and belief in a future that was bigger and brighter than we had dreamed.

When Marybeth was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was stunned. Not only was she young, but she was healthy – she hiked, she often put 10,000 steps a day on her fitness tracker, she was vegan (mostly – she made an exception for cheese on pizza), she and Sean had moved to Colorado to embrace the outdoor lifestyle they both loved… she had people who loved her, people she loved, purpose in life.  When her breast cancer wouldn't listen to reason, or to multiple forms of aggressive treatment, or to legions of her friends chorusing “Bye, Felicia” to send it on its way, she met it all with authenticity, vulnerability, faith, and grace.  She shared her experiences in her blog, and she continued to work for CAS, just as long as she could.  She was the CAS Executive Director for just six years, but her impact on this organization will be lasting.

Mine, of course, is a perspective seen through one face of a prism, one lens of experience.  Views through other sides will look slightly different, but the essential shape of what is seen will not change.  Prisms also refract light, exploding a single beam into a rainbow of colors.  As is true for anyone, Marybeth was experienced a bit differently by everyone who knew her, but her essential self didn't change. She was bright, beautiful, funny, tender, committed, genuine, passionate, competent, fun-loving, and life-loving. Her life was too short, but the colors she radiated will brighten all that she touched for a long time to come.  Rest easy, Marybeth. Our world is better because you were in it.

For more information about her life and legacy, read Marybeth's obituary in the Chicago Sun-Times: