Sarah Lawrence College Mourns the Loss of Sara Wilford ’72

Sara WilfordSarah Lawrence College today mourns the loss of Sara Wilford ’72, a beloved and respected member of the college community from her time as a student through her many influential roles as a faculty member and program founder and director.

“Sara believed that every child—and, therefore, every person—has in them from day one what they need to succeed,” said President Cristle Collins Judd. “She devoted her life, in a truly selfless way, to helping everyone she encountered tap into their strengths to realize their potential. She did that for countless students—of all ages—and colleagues at Sarah Lawrence, and, in many ways, she did that for the College itself.”

Sara Wilford reading to childrenThroughout her remarkable career dedicated to children’s learning and growth, Wilford shared her considerable talents, immeasurable knowledge, and generous, nurturing spirit with Sarah Lawrence for more than 30 years. She joined the psychology faculty in 1982, teaching courses connecting child development theory to educational practice. She went on to direct the College’s Early Childhood Center (ECC), an on-campus laboratory pre-school that serves as a place for observation and research by graduate and undergraduate students, from 1982-2003. In 1985, she founded the Art of Teaching graduate program and served as director until her retirement in 2014, mentoring hundreds of future educators along the way. An enormous influence on the College’s focused excellence in the areas of children, childhood, and education, Sara also co-founded the Child Development Institute (CDI) in 1989, which serves to develop programs for early childhood and elementary school teachers, administrators, child development professionals, and parents through professional development and community outreach programs. 

“All these programs that Sara either founded or led or helped develop—CDI, ECC, Art of Teaching, Child Development—are so connected today and work together as a truly collaborative group,” said Child Development Institute Director Tricia Hanley MS Ed '08 MA '13. “And that all began with Sara.”

Sara Wilford teaching students in a classroomWilford’s contributions to the educational establishment at-large include experience as an early childhood and public elementary school teacher, the publication of books about childhood learning (Tough Topics: How to Use Books in Talking with Children about Life Issues and Problems; What You Need to Know When Your Child Is Learning to Read; and Nurturing Young Children’s Disposition to Learn), contributing to innumerable scholastic articles and texts, and serving frequently as a keynote speaker and workshop leader for seminars and conferences on early childhood education.

Sara Wilford at commencement 2020In May 2020, the College bestowed on Wilford a Doctorate in Humane Letters, Honoris Causa during graduate commencement. In honor of this occasion, a number of colleagues and past students paid tribute to Wilford, and psychology faculty member Charlotte Doyle penned a letter to her colleague of nearly 40 years. “With everyone you meet,” she wrote, “you listen with empathy, you discover strengths, you create opportunities for their development, you change lives.”

Sara Wilford changed and empowered many lives through her dedicated work at Sarah Lawrence College, and our community will forever be grateful.

A memorial in Sara Wilford’s honor will take place at Sarah Lawrence in the near future. Sara’s family has asked that donations be made in her honor to the Sara Wilford ’72 Fund for Early Childhood Education at Sarah Lawrence.

About Sarah Lawrence College

Founded in 1926, Sarah Lawrence is a prestigious, coeducational liberal arts college that consistently ranks among the leading liberal arts colleges in the country. Sarah Lawrence is known for its pioneering approach to education, rich history of impassioned intellectual and civic engagement, and vibrant, successful alumni. In close proximity to the unparalleled offerings of New York City, the historic campus is home to an intellectually curious and diverse community.