"She made the world a happier place:" Beloved Tobias Center assistant director remembered

The Kelley School of Business at IUPUI is mourning the loss of a beloved member of our family. Jean Plunkett passed away January 9, after complications during an outpatient procedure.

Jean was the assistant director of the Randall L. Tobias Leadership Center for Excellence for more than nine years, helping the educational programs and events grow tremendously in that time. She was a close friend to many in the Kelley School and beyond. Her happiness was infectious to all who had the good fortune to know her or, simply, to pass her in the halls. Jean is deeply, deeply missed.

“Jean was one of those people who made the world a happier place,” said Carol Madison, who, as former executive director of the Tobias Center, worked with Jean for years. “It wouldn’t do Jean justice to describe her as a person who stopped and smelled the roses. She was the kind of person who would wander off the path, poke around and find beautiful roses hidden someplace; then, she’d call you over to enjoy them.”

Jean was an integral part of the Tobias Center. Carol describes Jean as the creative arm of the center—In fact, she adds, many of the locations used today for Tobias Center events and programs were discovered by Jean—because she and her partner, Brian, wandered down a backroad one weekend, simply living life. That’s how the Hoosier Fellows’ pit stop challenge location, held at Putnam County Road Course, was discovered.

“There aren’t many people like Jean, who are able to discover things other people missed, and really enjoy life that way,” said Carol.

“She was a free spirit who discovered all the joy and beauty in life, and she shared it with other people. She would discover it in very ‘out of the way’ places," Carol added.

“Any encounter with Jean was like the first day of your favorite season: full of excitement and joy. Her enthusiasm was infectious,” said Jim Flynn, who worked with Jean as the associate director of the Tobias Center for years.

“Jean had this amazing ability to combine many skills into her work and make each element its own masterpiece. On one hand, she was able to creatively incorporate art into our materials, and on the other, she made everyone who came to a Tobias Center event feel like a favorite friend, even if it was the first time she met them," Jim said.


Jean was a free spirit who discovered all the joy and beauty in life, and she shared it with other people. She made the world a happier place.  

“Jean is profoundly missed,” said Julie Manning Magid, executive and academic director of the Tobias Center. “She was the quintessential team member who jumped in to solve an issue, answer a question or develop new ideas. She brought joy to all aspects of our work together. Jean was our conference planner extraordinaire. She knew hotel staff, attendees and speakers, and she greeted each one as family. As we planned our recent Tobias Center LEAD conference without her wisdom and guidance, we appreciated how much she accomplished seemingly effortlessly and how many lives she touched.”

Julie says Jean provided key, institutional knowledge when new members of the team started, an enthusiasm day by day and warm energy and presence toward all who worked with her. Jean also helped to develop the oral history program, a major research initiative to gather the wisdom of leaders from across disciplines, and Carol describes how she created a “pregame show” before events, complete with slides with quotes about leadership or photos she’d found of the speaker.

“It was a delight to work with Jean. Her smile and helpfulness were contagious. She will be greatly missed by all her colleagues at Kelley,” said Ken Carow, executive associate dean of faculty and research in Indianapolis.

“Jean was the rock of the Tobias Center," said Phil Powell, associate dean of academic programs in Indianapolis. "Her attention to detail allowed everyone to take the flawless events she facilitated for granted. She provided an endless smile for all of us. She is truly missed.”

As so aptly put in her obituary: Jean taught us that the ordinary things in life are the most important.

 “Jean had a spark that few people have. I call it a ‘gift.’ She had the ability to put others at ease, to solicit a smile or laugh from people who are allergic to joy and to find sublime in everyday situations. I will miss her witty observations, her keen insights and her restaurant recommendations. I will miss my friend,” said Larry Smith, managing director of the Tobias Center.

As so aptly put in her obituary: Jean taught us that the ordinary things in life are the most important.

We extend our thoughts and prayers to all of Jean’s friends and family.

For more information about a memorial planned on her birthday in March, please email Brian Sweeney at bpsweeney@hotmail.com.