It's 1984. Anita "Nicki" D'Amato Cobb '64 is celebrating her 20th Emmanuel College reunion, enjoying dinner with five women with whom she's maintained strong friendships over the previous two decades. Around the table, the alumnae discuss the turns life had taken in the five years since they last visited 400 The Fenway, and the difficult times their alma mater was facing during a stretch of declining enrollment.
"I looked around the table, and it occurred to me that this group of women could have held their own with any group of women, from any college around the country," Cobb said. "We were teachers and lawyers. We sat on school boards. It really moved me, and it got me thinking more seriously about what Emmanuel had done for me. For all of us."
Cobb's Emmanuel journey began in the fall of 1960, after graduation from a Sisters of Notre Dame-affiliated high school in Connecticut. A history major with minors in political science and education, she readily admits she was "a minor league trouble maker" who could have been a little more serious about her studies. Excessive class-cutting led to her being dropped from sophomore theology, necessitating her taking seven hours of theology in the first semester of junior year. Rumor had it she had some part in a food strike one spring, didn't miss many home games at Fenway Park, and spent many hours in the "smoker" playing bridge, leading to a number of run-ins with Dean of Students, Sr. Francesca, which culminated in her, along with her frequent "party in crime," Alicia Scully, being expelled in the spring of 1963 for a whole 45 minutes. Sr. Francesca relented when the two promised to wear lipstick every day and white gloves on Sunday.
"There were so many rules," she said, including lights out by 11 every night and beds made by 10 every morning. "I had many, many demerits until I wised up and put a 'do not disturb' sign on my door when I left for class in the morning."
One thing Cobb took very seriously was her time on the basketball court.
"I was a gym rat," she said. "I got the coach to let me have a key to the gym, and I would go in there and work on my game for hours."
It was a different era, though, a decade before Title IX was signed into law and gender inequality in sports was alleviated.
"It was also a very different game, then; we couldn't cross half court. Our coach had a degree in physical education, but didn't have a true understanding of how to coach," she said. "We didn't have anything compared to what women's sports teams have now."
Despite the lack of funding or recognition, Cobb (who captained the team in her junior and senior years and also served as president of the Athletic Association), her teammates and their opponents were passionate about the game. Outside the gym, Cobb also rallied classmates for softball games on the grounds where the Cardinal Cushing Library now stands and played tennis on the campus' former tennis courts.
Cobb's love for, and participation in, athletic endeavors continues even today. And, she has never ceased advocating for opportunities for girls and women to participate in competitive sports.
Upon graduating from Emmanuel in May 1964, Cobb thought, somewhere in the back of her mind, that she might like to be a lawyer. But by December, she was married, and her daughter, Sheila, was born in 1967.
"I thought I was going to be the super-mother, at home, baking hundreds of cookies," she said. "But I wasn't cut out for that lifestyle. I needed the stimulation of adults."
Cobb returned to school in 1968 to earn a master's in education at Central Connecticut State University and went to work as a substitute teacher. At the same time, it was becoming clear that her marriage wasn't going to work out, and she divorced in 1969.
"I finished my master's the following year, but I knew I also wasn't cut out for life as a public school teacher. I realized I was going to be solely responsible for myself and my daughter, and I wanted to do something I had always dreamed of doing," she said.
Cobb started law school at the University of Connecticut in September 1971 and found herself in a male-dominated environment.
"Only 10 percent of my classmates were women. Our LSAT scores were 100 points higher than the men's, but some of the professors didn't like teaching us. We had to work much harder. Still, it was a wonderful experience," she said.
While in law school, she married Charlie Cobb and they enjoyed a "loving and devoted partnership" for 41 years until his death in 2015. After graduating in 1974, Cobb spent nine years practicing in a small, private law firm. As the only female lawyer in a city of 75,000 people for several of those years, she found herself handling a lot of divorce cases, something she didn't relish. Concurrently, she was working with her hometown of New Britain, Connecticut, serving as counsel to the City Development Commission and Special Counsel to the Board of Police Commissioners in the midst of a major job scandal. She found this work far more rewarding and, following a cordial separation from her longtime partner, she accepted a full-time, non-political position with the City, as Assistant Corporation Counsela role she served in until she retired in 1998.
"I really loved it. It was a very rewarding career," she said. "When you're young and growing up in a time when the Vietnam War was going on, you have these big ideas that you're really going to make a change and fix things. I just hope I made the world a better place than it would have been if I weren't there. And Emmanuel was a big part of that. I never really was conscious of all the things Emmanuel had done for me."
Despite her professional success, Cobb is quick to say that her biggest accomplishment in life is her daughter, Sheila. After Cobb was diagnosed with throat cancer a few years ago, Sheila flew to Florida to help her and Charlie, while continuing to work remotely at Deloitte.
"She is as brilliant and caring a person as I'd ever hope to meet."
REIGNITING THE SAINTS SPIRIT
When Cobb returned to campus in 2004 for her 40th reunion, she noticed a lot of changes.
"There were young men on campus. There was a growing connection with the city of Boston. The curriculum was interdisciplinary and meaningful," she said.
During the weekend, Cobb and her classmates had the opportunity to sit in on a presentation by a faculty member who was teaching a course on the history of the 1960s.
"We had lived through the topics that were being discussedthe Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, the women's movementand we spoke to the professor about own experiences. 'This is what Emmanuel students are learning,' I thought, and it so excited me, it really did. I realized I should be doing more to help the College."
Her involvement with and philanthropic support of Emmanuel continued to grow stronger in the years that followed. Several years ago at a reception for President's Society members, she struck up a conversation with longtime head women's basketball coach Andy Yosinoff.
"He became my new best friend," she said. "I am tremendously proud of what he has accomplished with the basketball program and of the experiences he gives to those girls. He really cares about them. I am so envious that I was born too soon. In the past three years, I've made it my business to be in the stands when Andy brings the girls south on their Christmas break."
In the months leading up to her 50th Emmanuel reunion in 2014, Cobb confided in some close friends that she "would give [my] eye-teeth to be in the Hall of Fame." Her friends got in touch with Yosinoff and Alumni Relations staff, who set out to find records from the early 60s, but unfortunately the era wasn't well documented. In a November 2014 ceremony held during the fall tip-off tournaments for the men's and women's basketball teams, Cobb was inducted both for her prowess on the court and for her passion and advocacy for gender equity in athletics.
"My induction into the Emmanuel Hall of Fame ranks up there with the greatest honors of my life," she said. "Sharing it with so many classmates, friends and relatives made it especially special. Charlie told me he had never seen a bigger smile on my face. But, it wasn't just my honor. In a way, I became a representative of the dark ages of women's basketball at Emmanuel College and of the women who played in an age when we didn't get any recognition."
A LEGACY FOR THE FUTURE
A member of the Heritage Society, Cobb intends to leave a lasting impact on the College and its future generations of students with a generous gift from her estate. Her wish is for Emmanuel to keep up with the change in times and for students to continue receiving an education that will serve them and the world they live in. "To those that are given, they have an obligation to give back," she said.
Cobb also hopes Emmanuel will carry on the tradition of bold and visionary leadership that President Sr. Janet Eisner has shown with past initiatives such as the Merck Research Laboratories and Roberto Clemente Field partnerships as well as current projects such as the upcoming construction of a new residence hall.
"I'd like to see Emmanuel College continue to grow," she added. "For a time, when you told people that you went to Emmanuel College, they maybe hadn't heard of it. Now Emmanuel students and alumni are everywhere. It gives me great pride."