One of the Museum’s longest-serving employees has decided to retire after more than 40 years on the job. Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Susan Funk will retire effective July 1.
It is not an understatement to say that there is no aspect of the Museum that does not owe something to Susan’s influence.
Her association with the Museum began in 1977 when she was a member of the inaugural class of the Williams-Mystic program.
“My skills class was to be paired with shipwright Willets Ansel, who was building a dory for the L.A. Dunton. I learned all about clinker boatbuilding and how to clench nails,” she says. “It was a great experience at that point in life: he was so genuine and disciplined, but also open to change and growth.”
The hook had been set. Susan says she recently found an old letter to a cousin where she wrote that she was having so much fun that “Maybe I could work here?”
After a first job after college working in Geneva, Switzerland on the Law of the Sea Treaty – which taught her politics was not her passion – she did come to work here by taking a summer position where she worked on the demonstration squad, exhibit interpretation, and many other projects. That began a succession of 12 different job titles over the next four decades, culminating in her last as Executive Vice President & COO.
Personal highlights over the years include chaperoning teen groups on board schooner Brilliant, and traveling with the Williams-Mystic program to the Pacific Northwest and going to sea with them.
“These were opportunities to see the combination of the academic and experiential in actions,” she says. “I can’t think of anything more powerful in education that influences lives and opens up dialogue and change.”
Funk’s leadership played a key role in bringing many of the Museum’s milestone events to reality: the building of the schooner Amistad and the accompanying website Exploring Amistad, the 38th Voyage of the Charles W. Morgan, and the construction and successful launch of the Thompson Exhibition Building and the Collins Gallery. The broad range of entertaining public programs and inspiring educational activities that she devised and contributed to is too long to list.
Her service extended beyond the Museum. Funk served on the board of the New England Museum Association and was the board chair for 6 years. She spent 7 years participating in an advocacy campaign for the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) to champion issues and programs to benefit museums, and she found time to be a reader and peer reviewer for AAM accreditation and National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services grant applications.
“What I will miss most about Susan – aside from her wisdom, sage advice, and calm presence – is her passion for maritime history and the Museum. She dedicated her professional life to ensuring that that visitor experience here is world class and much of what the Museum is today is due to her intelligence and hard work,” said Steve White, president of Mystic Seaport Museum.
“I have loved every minute of my time here and I will miss the daily exchanges with coworkers, scholars and visitors who are the heart of the institution,” said Funk. “Thank you all for your part in making Mystic Seaport Museum a most remarkable organization.”
“I look forward to enjoying the many dimensions of the Museum as a ‘civilian’ in the years ahead,” she added.
Funk plans to remain in Mystic with her husband, Jim, and pursue a variety of projects, most notably to spend time visiting her two grandchildren in Sweden.