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UC gives a resounding ‘Hand’

University of Cincinnati honors its retiring public figure after 36 years of service

Story and photos by Melanie Titanic-Schefft

“Great significance goes beyond simply filling a role at UC. Greg Hand has been living a career, and we’re all better for it,” said Greg Vehr, vice president of government relations and university communications at a retirement gathering for UC’s Greg Hand in TUC’s Great Hall on June 13, 2014.

“He connected with presidents, provosts, board of trustee members, faculty, students, police officers, reporters and perhaps most impressively, workers at every level. He connected with everyone.”

Hand, associate vice president of public relations, has left his “Handprints” so to speak, all over UC and has put his alma mater in the center of his professional life. Astutely labeled by the UC News Record as the “keeper of wisdom,” Hand was also known as the “keeper of UC history,” for his keen ability to answer anything anyone ever wanted to know about the university (and most other topics).

A true helping Hand

Commemorating Hand’s 36-year career, grateful UC administration, faculty, staff, students, family and friends gathered for an afternoon of food, congratulatory hugs, tears and laughter.

Kicking off the ceremony, board of trustee member Rob Richardson Jr., Eng '02, JD '05, relayed to Hand and the crowd that Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley had proclaimed June 13, 2014, as Greg Hand Day in Cincinnati and presented Hand with a signed proclamation.

Vehr proclaimed that Hand was a man of great talents with a propensity for poetry, words, music from mambo to metal, theology, the universe, science, art and his family.

“It also seems appropriate that your day in Cincinnati be designated on this full moon," Vehr said later. "A full moon that will not reappear on Friday the 13th again until 2045.” 

Cheryl Dunn, associate professor emeritus of the College of Engineering and Applied Science, congratulated Hand for his years of outreach, for being able to handle any situation, from UC celebrations to legal troubles, to tragic deaths and for making all of the units at UC come together to solve problems. 

“He made students understand and appreciate what it means be sensitive to others,” said Dunn. “He always showed that sensitivity. He taught us that you can grow and learn and become better, even from the worst situations. He always made it his mission to include all at the university, from the great to the good, and the not so good –– just who we were and who we are.  Greg is confident, respectful and acts with honesty and integrity.”

Leisan Smith, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Center, thanked Hand for being their biggest ally. “Greg’s investment in the LGBTQ community was sincere and tremendously appreciated,” said Smith. “He didn’t just talk the talk, he walked the walk, by walking in the LGBTQ parade every year and supporting all our efforts, even with his wife Linda,” Smith continued.

“He is much more than the mysterious man behind the scary emails; he is kind, caring and a dedicated person whose presence here on this campus will be missed.” 

Smith also quoted author and activist Alice Walker who said, “No person is your friend who demands your silence or denies your right to grow.”

“Mr. Greg Hand, the LGBTQ is honored to call you friend,” Smith continued. “Thank you for helping our voice to be heard and for the hand you had in helping us grow.” 

The great and mysterious “Oz”

Kevin Grace, historian, UC professor and head of the UC Archives and Rare Books Library, later lightened the mood by designating Hand as the student’s version of “Where’s Waldo,” always trying to catch a glimpse of him. “That’s because for the major part of his career, Hand faithfully served inconspicuously from behind the scenes, often as the voice of common sense and great ideas,” Grace said.

For many of the decades he has spent at UC, Hand was the great and mysterious “Oz,” who Grace described as the enigmatic figure behind official campus notices that announced weather closings, crime bulletins and campus accomplishments.  

In the past several years, however, Hand’s man-behind-the-curtain persona began to evolve, and he surfaced more than ever. He has increased his career-long enrichment of UC students and their lives through more face-to-face involvement with their organizations –– especially LGBTQ, Roar, the Greek organizations –– and being the grand marshal of MainStreet Stride.

Hand is our key informant and a denison of UC culture

Hand’s enlightenment of UC history through the dedicated talks he gave in the MainStreet Cinema, Grace explained, are today a vital part of our learning about this university. Grace also stressed how beloved Hand is in the UC Archives and Rare Books Library. “Not just because he firmly believes in our resident ghost, but because he has contributed so much to our work,” Grace added.

“It was Greg who did the thorough research and writing about the origins of the Bearcats and who uncovered why our colors are red and black and who discovered that the first Ph.D. awarded by UC went to Herbert Cooper Wilson who was a student working in our famous observatory in the 19th century,” said Grace. “And even today, it is Greg who continues to do the research on the first woman graduate, Winona Hawthorne, in 1878, and our first African-American graduate, Henry Malachi Griffin, in 1886.” 

“Along the way, he has taught me so much about dealing with the media –– what is news, what can become news, both good and bad and how to recognize the difference,” said Grace.  

Grace referred to Hand as a renaissance man because he knows so many things about so many subjects, minus the subject of sports.

“When Greg and I wrote the history of UC basketball several years ago he had to be immersed in the sport, and I had to serve as the teacher/coach in a very small way, but the instruction took,” Grace said. “To this day Greg knows exactly how many halves are in a basketball game and how many points a 3-point shot is worth.”

“Greg is constantly learning and constantly looking around, whether it’s local geology and his work with the Dry Dredgers or his journeys through the cosmos and his work at the Cincinnati Observatory. He is the epitome of what an institution strives to become –– to help its students, faculty and staff and the entire community become curious about the world and enthusiastic about rendering service to it.”

Before handing the microphone over to Hand, Vehr announced that the university will plant a tree in his honor on UC’s campus.

Heard it first-Hand

Hand thanked everyone, especially the University Relation’s team who, he said, do all the amazing things for which he somehow gets the credit. He thanked his mentor, M.J. Klyn, who in 1978 saw something in this “very unpolished” young man who interviewed for a job and subsequently gave him the opportunity that led to what he calls “the best job in the world.” (Read Hand's obituary of Klyn following her death in 2013.)

“For 36 years I have held to M.J.’s observation that everything you do says something to someone, and in her memory I urge you to remember that everything that you do communicates something, so communicate good things about my university,” Hand said.

Hand talked about his years of service to the university, but most importantly Hand wanted to talk about his wife Linda, who he credits as the brains of his outfit.

Linda, Hand’s wife of 49 years, had a long history of protecting him from losing many a night’s sleep because of university issues that surfaced in the middle of the night. When the phone would ring at 2 a.m., Linda would often ask, “Are you sure you want me to wake him?”

“I’m pretty sure it has been built into the lieutenant’s exam at the UC police department that if you haven’t been able to get through Linda Hand you can forget about your promotion,” Hand said with a smile.

On the other Hand

“I owe Linda a lot and much of what I owe her is time. Time for our precious books, time for libraries and museums, time for walking the dogs and strolling through cemeteries, ‘don’t ask,’” He added. “Time for us to talk and that is why I am retiring,” Hand said.

As he finished his thoughtful and often-tearful sentiments, he ended by asking for a big round of applause for Linda, A&S ’75, with honors, for her many years of service to the university. 

And while Hand will now spend that much deserved time with Linda and family, it will not remove him from the campus entirely.  As Grace so eloquently phrased in his tribute:

“In Greg there is a potency of life, and he is indeed a progeny of the University of Cincinnati, and so while he may be retiring in terms of everyday employment, his activity here will carry on for the next several years as he continues to help guide us in chronicling the upcoming 2019 bicentennial and the rich heritage of this university.”


View live chats with Greg Hand
Video Series: History of the University of Cincinnati
News Record, “The Zen of Greg Hand”
News Record, “Hauntings on, and around UC’s campus; true or not”
News Record, “News Record instrumental in naming Bearcat”

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