Photograph by Juliana Sohn
After working with divas at Carnegie Hall, luminaries at the 92nd Street Y, and legends at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Vice President of Campus Services Gail Beltrone was undaunted by the prospect of helping to manage President Barack Obama’s appearance at last spring’s Commencement.
Never mind that Beltrone had only arrived on campus three months before the President’s visit was in the works. “It was fun for me,” says Beltrone, quick to credit her team and Lillian Appel, director of major events, for their contributions. “I had previously worked maybe 70 to 100 or so commencement ceremonies over the years on the venue side, so it felt pretty natural. The security involved with a president (sitting or past) is really all about being flexible and that’s what venue managers are trained to do.”
Beltrone certainly has the training in managing properties, people, and events, even as she admits that she didn’t grow up thinking her career goal was to be “in charge of campus services.” At Barnard, Beltrone is responsible for event management and special events—including all conferences on campus and Commencement—as well as facilities management, public safety, and mail and document services.
Born in the Bronx and raised in Westchester County, Beltrone earned a degree in American history from the University of Chicago. When she decided to postpone law school and get a job, Beltrone returned home to New York, looked at job postings in the arts, and was hired by Carnegie Hall.
Law school never happened. “At each step, I had phenomenal opportunities,” says Beltrone. While director of theater operations at the 92nd Street Y, Beltrone also was the executive producer for a television series, and did project management. Once she landed at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Beltrone helped open the new space and went on to become vice president of operations there.
She couldn’t be more delighted with her current position. “This is as near a perfect marriage as there could be,” says Beltrone, who lives in the theatre district with her husband. “I still regard myself as very lucky.” The new vice president appreciates the culture of the College, where “there are a lot of people who care about the stewardship of the campus. People understand their customer service role: It’s ‘what does it take to get the job done?’ They understand the mission, which is to improve the quality of life and uphold the vision of the College.”
Her definition of being successful is being invisible. “I really work towards affecting the quality of student and faculty life,” she affirms. “You can continue to take for granted that things are clean, that the grounds look beautiful. The best testament to our work is that there’s nothing to say. I regard it as an honor to be able to do that.” And working behind the scenes suits her just fine. “I enjoy the finished product,” says Beltrone. “I don’t need to be the finished product.”