Kathy Mulray was always used to being in the background.
Ever since she joined Community College of Philadelphia 31 years ago, she preferred to help the college and its students quietly, without being the center of attention.
But when Mulray, who has been director of CCP’s Northeast Regional Center since 2005, announced she would be retiring, her colleagues wouldn’t let her go quietly. There was too much to celebrate.
On Friday friends, family, colleagues and former students gathered at CCP for a party that would send Mulray into retirement with gifts, desserts and music from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.
“I don’t feel that there’s much more that I can do here,” Mulray said. Making the decision to retire was tough, but once she made it, she knew she was ready.
Mulray started out as a part-time site supervisor 31 years ago, when she would come to CCP’s old location at Academy and Red Lion roads, the college’s first regional center, checking on the facility at night for six years.
She became a full-time coordinator for 10 years before becoming director for the Northeast Regional Center. Her career oversaw the opening of the expanded Northeast site in 2010, which doubled the size of the center. She also co-designed a program that allows MaST Community Charter School students to graduate high school with associate degrees from CCP.
Hannah, a MaST senior enrolled in the program, recalled feeling nervous walking into CCP on her first day.
“When we walked in Mrs. Mulray was standing right there, and seeing her was such a reassurance for us,” Hannah said. She was accompanied by Casey, a MaST junior who will also graduate with a degree from CCP thanks to the program.
Anne Dempster, former coordinator at the Northeast Regional Center and Mulray’s “partner in crime,” reminisced about a few memories of the two working together, including the two handling student issues while dressed as a clown and bird on Halloween. She also recalled admiring Mulray’s work ethic while overseeing the construction of the new center.
“It was your leadership and dedication that made the center what it is today, an institution you can be proud of,” Dempster said.
Mulray wasn’t just a CCP employee. At 35 years old she enrolled in classes and became a college student. She recalled sitting at the kitchen table and doing homework alongside her kids.
“In fact, my son tutored me in math,” she joked to laughs from the audience. “I helped him with some subjects in return.”
Mulray plans to keep busy after retiring – but on her own schedule. She’ll spend time at her lake cottage in Thompson, Susquehanna County and with her eight grandchildren, and might look into some part-time work – just not right away.
There’s a lot Mulray will miss about her job, like working to improve the center and seeing people from all walks of life come through the doors to create their own paths. Most of all, she’ll miss working with the students and faculty.
“It’s a wonderful environment to be able to contribute to,” she said.
The tables were decorated with records for tracks like Billy Joel’s Surprises and ABBA’s Does Your Mother Know. Songs like Stevie Wonder’s Signed Sealed Delivered played as guests entered the party as well as Smokey Robinson’s You Must Be Love, Mulray’s all-time favorite song.
At the end of the speeches, Mulray took the microphone to thank everyone in attendance.
“I do believe you must be love. Thank you,” she said to applause.