Former University of New England President Sandra Featherman, who oversaw UNE’s merger with Westbrook College in 1996 to create its Portland campus, died Thursday, three months after being diagnosed with brain cancer. She was 84.

Featherman was president from 1995 through 2006. According to UNE, she oversaw multimillion-dollar renovations to academic and residential buildings on the Biddeford and Portland campuses, helped build UNE’s operating budget from $26 million to more than $100 million, and grew the endowment from $2 million to $24 million.

Featherman was the chief architect of the 1996 merger of UNE’s then 1,800-student school with the much smaller Westbrook College.

UNE President James D. Herbert said in a phone interview Friday that her vision for merging the two campuses laid the foundation for UNE as it exists today.

“She had the vision to see things come together,” Herbert said. “Thank God she did. Westbrook has become an incredibly vibrant campus. The Westbrook alumni are among the most loyal and engaged members of the UNE family. The university wouldn’t be what it is today without that merger.”

During her 11-year tenure, UNE added several academic programs and majors, significantly increased student enrollment, and enhanced the school’s national reputation as a leader in the education of health care professionals.

Featherman oversaw construction of the Harold Alfond Center for Health Sciences and the Marine Science Education and Research Center on the Biddeford campus, and the Parker Pavilion-Interactive Classroom buildings on the Portland campus.

Sandra Featherman on the Biddeford campus in 2005 Staff photo by Gordon Chibroski

She was made an honorary alumna of Westbrook College in 1998 and of the University of New England in 2004.

Herbert said Featherman will be remembered as a champion of the liberal arts. Her photo is displayed prominently in Alumni Hall on the Westbrook campus. A plaque acknowledging her contributions to UNE hangs at the Biddeford campus.

“I made sure to let her know her legacy is safe and secure and will go on,” Herbert said. “She was a lovely person. She was very gracious and very encouraging to me.”

Featherman stepped down as UNE’s president on June 30, 2006. A few days later, she took the reins of a blue-ribbon commission designated to assess Maine’s Dirigo Health program. In August 2007, she was appointed to the American Osteopathic Association’s Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation.

Throughout the years, Featherman served on dozens of boards and committees supporting a range of causes – from empowering young girls, to racial and ethnic equity in higher education. Those organizations include Girl Scouts of Maine, The Samuel S. Fels Charitable Fund, the Maine Community Foundation, Webber Hospital, and Hospice of Southern Maine.

“She cared deeply about our mission to improve the lives of all Maine people,” said Peter Lamb, chairman of the Maine Community Foundation board. “She was an extraordinary person. She really knew how to bring a group of people together around a common purpose. Not everyone can do that. … She was so committed to making Maine a better place.”

She was the wife of Bernard Featherman. The couple celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary on March 29. They lived in Highland Beach, Florida, where he previously served as mayor. The Feathermans spent summers at a second home in Kennebunkport.

They had two sons, Andrew Featherman, formerly of Biddeford, and John Featherman of Philadelphia.

Andrew Featherman remembered his mother Friday as a strong and insightful woman who made a profound difference in the world.

“She spent most of her life empowering women and minorities,” including American Indian tribes, he said. “It was very important to her that minority groups and women have equal footing and equal opportunity, and she fought for that her whole life. That’s the legacy that really mattered to her.”

Featherman was the author of more than 50 professional papers and several books, including “Higher Education at Risk: Strategies to Improve Outcomes, Reduce Tuition, and Stay Competitive in a Disruptive Environment,” published in July 2014.

Her son said she was an active member of 44 different boards at one time.

“I don’t know how she did it,” he said. “She still had time to be our mother. I was very proud of what she achieved. I hope to do one-tenth of that. We intend to continue her legacy.”

Featherman became sick in January. She was diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer, and decided not have to treatment.

John Featherman shared memories of his mother’s monthly visits to Philadelphia. He was holding her hand when she died Thursday.

“My mom had incredible courage. She exited on her own terms,” he said. “I’ll miss so many things. I’ll miss the door opening, hearing the wheels of her carry-on luggage when she came to visit me. She would say, ‘Hey Johnnio.’ She was larger than life. She was in many ways like a movie character – like Lois Lane. She was a transformational figure.”

Featherman’s services will be held at 12:30 p.m. Sunday at Roosevelt Memorial Park Cemetery in Trevose, Pennsylvania.

Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

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