Pamela Dumas Serfes: Life in Balance
Pamela Dumas Serfes made a decision that many people think about but far fewer do: she quit a prestigious, well-paying job without having a concrete employment plan for the future.
“I loved my job; I really loved it, but I needed to get my life back,” she says. “People thought I was crazy, but it was just another chapter.”
Pamela, who lives in Essex, has recently joined the board of the Essex Library. More involvement in the community was one of the goals she set for herself in this new phase of her life and the library seemed a continuation of a childhood love.
“Growing up, we used to go to the library on Saturday morning for story hour and leave with an armful of books,” she says. “I worked in a library. It is in my blood.”
For some 35 years in her professional life, Pamela was a marketing and communications specialist, whose focus was the world of higher education. Most recently, from 2014 to 2021, she was vice president for communications at Connecticut College, which involved responsibilities including developing a marketing plan, social media, website management, and overseeing writing and design of all the college’s publications and reports. For two years prior to assuming that job, she worked as director of advancement communications for the college.
She has nothing but praise for how Connecticut College managed the COVID crisis.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen. We closed like everybody else, reopened in the fall, tested on campus, tested twice a week,” she says.
Even when Pamela was working remotely, she went to be tested twice a week herself.
Remote meetings gave at least one of the participants an inaccurate image of Pamela. She is tall, at least 5’11” or 5’12” as she likes to joke. But someone who finally met her in person after remote sessions told her that the expectation was that she would be short. That’s how she had looked onscreen.
It was the pandemic that served as a spur to Pamela’s decision to open a new chapter. Working remotely during the COVID gave her space to reflect on about the trajectory of her life.
“It gave me time to think,” she says
Pamela, who grew up in Bangor, Maine, never thought she would be a communications specialist. She had done well in languages in high school and thought she would major in French at the University of Maine and become a translator. Instead, she discovered the communications department, getting both a B.A. and an M.A. in communications.
Her master’s thesis was a determining point in her career path, but not actually because of the subject. Pamela needed to hire a typist to produce the copy she would turn in. There was a catch: She needed a job to pay the typist. She went to the dean of students to ask for a job; he hired her to run the college’s orientation program.
Not only did she submit a nicely type thesis, she also was so successful that she stayed on, ultimately becoming the director of marketing and communications at the university. What she is most proud of in her time at Maine was developing and implementing a plan for a Women’s Resource Center. She recalls asking the president of the university, when she had been chosen as a presidential intern, why there was no women’s center.
“He said if you want one, create it,” she recalls.
Her interest in the visibility of women in academia led to her next job at Randolph-Macon Women’s College in Virginia, where she was Director of Public relations and Communications for a decade.
At that point, she made a major decision. She was in Virginia with her young son, David. Her family was in New England.
“It struck me how alone were,” she says, noting that the Sept. 11 attack in 2001 had underlined for her how far from family she was.
“I got a divorce, I sold my house, I quit my job, I moved back,” she says.
She describes her arrival in Massachusetts where her brother lived as a “soft landing.” She got the first job she interviewed for at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as executive director of news and communications.
In 2009, she went south again to Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina where she was associate vice-president for communications and external relations before coming to Connecticut College in 2012.
“I’m a Yankee. I still vacation in Maine. I like four seasons; I love snow,” Pamela says. “I couldn’t live far from the water; I couldn’t live without ocean. New England is home.”
Now that she has more time, Pamela has started doing more baking, which she enjoys. She describes it not as baking but “experimenting.”
She also has more time to focus on her own health and wellness and is walking two to three miles in Essex five days a week.
Still, Pamela he is not done with a professional life, perhaps in another field, perhaps for a non-profit.
“I’m not afraid to do something I have not done before,” she says. “I’m still setting goals for myself.”
She says assembling a good team is the key to a successful working life.
“You need a collective of smart, dedicated people,” she says.
In communications and media, Pamela says a good manager always has to have an effective and well-thought-out crisis plan. But she adds, “The best thing is to have a great crisis plan and never have to use it.”