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Ex-Conn College professor gets parting honor
William J. Cibes is a former professor at Conn College
By RAY HACKETT
Article published January 8, 2006
LITCHFIELD-- Some of the state's most distinguished writers -- including Poet Laureate Marilyn Nelson and best-selling novelist Wally Lamb -- paid tribute to Connecticut State University System Chancellor William J. Cibes Jr. Friday for his contributions to young writers.
"He's been there for the long haul," said Lamb, who first met Cibes when he was asked to be the keynote speaker at the 1999 annual Connecticut Young Writers Awards dinner.
Cibes, who is retiring as chancellor next month, was the driving force behind the effort to bring the annual writing competition statewide. Since 1998, more than $118,000 has been awarded to young writers. Several of the past winners were among the dozen speakers at the event honoring Cibes Friday at the Litchfield Inn.
"You have done so much," Emily Dykes, 18, and a Montville High School senior, told Cibes. Dykes, the 2004 statewide competition winner and the 2005 New London County contest winner, said, "Even if you only did this one deed, you did for me what no one else could. You gave me hope."
Cibes, a former professor of government at Connecticut College and state legislator representing New London, has served as chancellor of the state university system since 1994. In 2000, he and IMPAC Chairman Jim Irwin brought the Young Writers competition, originally a Litchfield County event, statewide, enabling high school students throughout Connecticut to showcase their talents.
"It's not something I started," Cibes said, giving credit for the program to the late state Poet Laureate Leo Connellan. "So I don't take any credit for it. But it has been tremendously satisfying and rewarding to be part of it."
Friday's event honoring Cibes, "A Celebration of Words &The Man," was sponsored the Connecticut Review & IMPAC-CSU Young Writers Trust, the competition's host organization.
Author Rand Cooper, formerly of New London and a contributing editor of Bon Appetite magazine, is one of the judges for the annual competition. In his remarks, he recalled his long association with Cibes, who met Cooper while campaigning door-to-door in New London for state office. Cooper was impressed Cibes, then a professor, was taking the theoretical aspects of the classroom to the sidewalks.
"He wanted to take the ideas from the ivory tower and try to take them out into the world," Cooper said. "That, to me, is the defining description of the man."
Cibes taught at Conn College from 1969 through 1990. He served six years in the General Assembly, 1985-91, and as secretary of the Office of Policy and Management under former Gov. Lowell Weicker, 1991-94. He is probably best known as the architect of the state income tax, a dubious distinction he accepts with no regrets.
"It was the right thing to do," he said Friday night. "Without it, government would not be able to do what government is supposed to do. Government has a role to play, and if you don't do it the right way, you can never do what we're doing now."
Cibes said he is a fortunate to have enjoyed every aspect of his career, from teaching to serving in the legislature and the administration and working to improve the state's university system. His next "career," he said, will be as a writer -- but not fiction.
"I don't have a lot of the passion to try to do prose like these young people," he said with a laugh. His writing will focus instead on what he knows best, government.
But for those celebrating his accomplishments Friday, he will be remembered best as the guiding force behind the effort to create opportunities for young writers.
"All of us who are writers were young writers once," said Nelson in her remarks thanking Cibes for his contributions to the program, "and most of us didn't have the support and the opportunity that you have made available to young writers. And for that, I thank you."
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