Mary Linda Portner '74

By Aislinn Shevlin '14

Mary Linda Portner ’74 chose Spring Hill College on a leap of faith.  She desired to leave behind the expectations for young women in the late 1960s in Jackson, Miss.  Though her parents restricted her college search to a 200-mile radius around Jackson, so that she could remain relatively close to home, Spring Hill’s 180-mile distance from her hometown made the leap possible. 

When she got to Spring Hill, Portner realized that she was free to forge her own path. “Spring Hill allowed me to step outside all the preconceived ideas of who I was and what I should be doing,” she says. “The environment here allowed me to be the person who God created me to be.”

Portner studied English and history at Spring Hill under Dr. Michael Kaffer and Dr. Howard Smith, and she credits both professors for having an impact on her academic growth.  She says they “taught us how to think, how to have fun academically, and work collaboratively.”

Portner tells one story that encapsulates those three facets of learning. Four hours before she and a friend, Charlie Smoke ’74, were due to present on the novel, Mario and the Magician, they had nothing prepared.  They had acquired no research other than reading the book and they were faced with a potential procrastination disaster.  However, Portner met Smoke at a tranquil grove on campus where they decided to look at the text, its publication date, and try to put it in context with historical relevance.  “By the grace of God,” Portner says, they got it right and their professor was ecstatic.

Upon graduation, Portner worked for many years in the fashion industry, travelling independently across the country and interacting with influential designers and brands.  She currently lives with her husband in Houston and maintained her link to Spring Hill by being on the National Alumni Board and becoming president of the Houston alumni chapter in the late ’90s.  It was through her work with Spring Hill’s alumni network that someone suggested she apply for a job in advancement at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory in Houston. She is now the director of advancement at St. Pius X High School in Houston.

Portner maintains close friendships with her Spring Hill classmates including Charlie Smoke and Kathleen Burke ’74, the latter of whom attended alumni weekend with Portner.  Portner and Burke, who is assistant vice president and assistant provost at the University of Dallas, interact together as if they were still Spring Hill undergraduates, as if no time had passed.

Portner explains that she remains connected and committed to Spring Hill’s future. “Spring Hill is fundamental to who I am,” she says. “It’s not a question of sentimentality or nostalgia; it’s more that there’s something about this school that is just integral to who I am and who I’ve become.” 

 

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