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Originally published December 30, 2011 at 8:11 PM | Page modified December 31, 2011 at 9:05 PM

Corrected version

Community-college pioneer George Corcoran mentored leaders

George Corcoran mentored a generation of Seattle leaders and championed the cause of community colleges. And he was known for sending out hundreds of handwritten letters every year — long, thoughtful notes that inspired and motivated the people who received them.

Seattle Times higher-education reporter

George Corcoran mentored a generation of Seattle leaders and championed the cause of community colleges. And he was known for sending out hundreds of handwritten letters every year — long, thoughtful notes that inspired and motivated the people who received them.

Mr. Corcoran died Tuesday of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. He was 82.

"He was a mentor to so many of us in the King County area," said Constance Rice, a member of the Seattle Community College District Board of Trustees, who described Mr. Corcoran as having "a wonderful, self-effacing sense of humor."

Mr. Corcoran, who was born in Michigan, moved to Seattle in 1967 from California after a career in management and served as executive assistant to Ed Erickson, the founding president of the Seattle Community College District (SCCD); later, he became administrative vice president, then district president from 1974 to 1977.

Those were pioneering years for community colleges, which were on the verge of explosive growth in this state, said Charles Mitchell, a former president of Seattle Central Community College (SCCC) and former chancellor of the district. Before then, "if you were involved in higher ed, you were involved in four-year schools," he said.

Mr. Corcoran was drawn to community colleges because they serve such a diverse group of students. "I think he saw the community-college role as a role that could be so positive for many, many people who could not otherwise get the education they needed," said his wife, Cleo Corcoran. "Also, many going to community college are starting over. It's a place where you can get an education that leads to a job."

SCCD Chancellor Jill Wakefield said Mr. Corcoran remained involved in planning and fundraising long after he left the college. "He embraced the idea of opportunity for all to pursue higher education and encouraged all of us to set and achieve high goals," she said.

Mr. Corcoran also created a memorial endowment for community-college scholarships in honor of his children, Craig and Carol, who are deceased.

In the 1980s, Mr. Corcoran helped form Leadership Tomorrow, a nonprofit civic-leadership-training program created with help from the Seattle Chamber of Commerce and United Way of King County.

"He had a real passion for seeing that there was a continuous influx of new blood" on the region's important boards and commissions, said Jan Levy, executive director of Leadership Tomorrow.

Mr. Corcoran served as board chairman for United Way of King County in 1984-85. "George had such a wonderful way about him, to have people come to a consensus and see past their differences," said Jon Fine, executive director of the United Way of King County.

Mrs. Corcoran said her husband sent out about 230 handwritten Christmas cards every year, and many more letters throughout the year. "He was a beautiful, beautiful writer and was always able to use the right word to express what he wanted," she said.

Rice, who was an intern for Mr. Corcoran when she was working on her doctorate and he was president of the college, said she received many letters from Mr. Corcoran, penned in an elegant, John Hancock-like script. "It was an 'atta boy, atta girl' letter, handwritten, a page and a half," Rice said.

Mr. Corcoran was born in Pontiac, Mich., and graduated from Michigan State University. During the Korean War, he served as a navigator on a Navy destroyer.

After leaving the military, Mr. Corcoran worked in California for Ford Motor Co. and later for Beckman Instruments.

In 1977, he left the SCCD and formed a consulting firm with Rod Chandler, working with boards and management teams on planning, governance and communications matters.

When Chandler was elected to Congress in 1982, the firm's name changed to Corcoran Consulting Group. Mr. Corcoran retired in 2009.

Other boards he chaired included the Group Health Foundation, North Seattle Community College Foundation, Private Initiatives in Public Education and University Preparatory Academy. In addition to Leadership Tomorrow, he also was a founding board member for the Urban Enterprise and Alliance for Education organizations.

Mr. Corcoran headed fundraising campaigns for the local chapter of the American Red Cross and the Group Health Foundation, and received numerous community-service awards, including "Citizen of the Year" by the Seattle-King County Municipal League in 1997.

He is survived by his wife.

A public memorial service for Mr. Corcoran will be held at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 11 at St. James Cathedral, 804 Ninth Ave. The service will be followed by a reception in the St. James Pastoral Outreach Center, 907 Columbia St.

Contributions may be made to the The Foundation for Seattle Community Colleges, Craig and Carol Corcoran Memorial Endowment Fund, 1500 Harvard Ave., Seattle 98122.

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or klong@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @katherinelong.

Information in this article, originally published Friday, Dec. 30, 2011, was corrected Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011. A previous version of this story incorrectly listed the date of public memorial service as this Wednesday. The service will be Wednesday, Jan. 11.

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