There in Spirit


For Sara Cornwall ’70, an estate gift ensures she’ll be a part of the school’s bright future

Making eye contact. Saying hello in passing. Having respect for others. Sara Cornwall ’70 has always been impressed by the way Williston Northampton students conduct themselves and how the school imparts these important virtues. A recent experience on campus drove this point home for her. “I was visiting campus one Saturday, and three young women were chatting away, walking toward me, and they stopped and said, ‘Do you need help finding something?’” Cornwall says. “I was shocked. They could’ve just ignored me. It was a really nice gesture.”

When Cornwall herself was a young woman, she was a day student at the Northampton School for Girls (NSFG), graduating just before the campus merged with Williston. The 2024-25 year will be the 100th anniversary of the founding of NSFG. “I grew up in a family where education was the top priority,” she says. “It’s amazing that the founders had the foresight and the resources to start the school, back when resources were really limited. They were educating the future female leaders of communities, and knew that the female perspective is important.”

Her favorite thing about NSFG, besides the education: the grounds. “It was a beautiful campus,” she recalls. “The historic buildings, the landscaping—it was just a beautiful place to be. And that’s important. When I go back to Williston, I see how much they pay attention to the grounds. It looks like people really care.”

Cornwall went on to earn an MBA from Boston College, bumping up against the limited professional opportunities for women. “My choices were very limited and none had any appeal to me.” She carved her own path, working in marketing for Fortune 50 companies before switching fields, establishing a successful career as a mortgage advisor. “I flourished,” she says.

Along the way, she has consistently donated her time and treasure to Williston, serving as a member of the inaugural group of the Head’s Visiting Council and on the Alumni Council, as well as naming Williston in her estate. “People usually give to their college, but do they remember their high school?” she says. “Yet high school is really the place that launches you. Even if it’s just sending in a $25 check, it says to the school, ‘Hey, you were important.’”

About 10 years ago, Cornwall had the opportunity to sit in on a history class at Williston, and she was again impressed with the way the students handled themselves, as well as the caliber of the discussion. The classroom was bristling with energy and excitement, and the faculty member brought the history lesson to life. “It wasn’t just reading from a textbook,” she recalls. “My estate gift ensures that I’ll be there in spirit to help the school continue its amazing progress. It’s very exciting for me.” Naming Williston in her estate was a simple, streamlined process. “It’s not complicated at all,” she says. “I just list Williston as a primary beneficiary—couldn’t be easier.”

Now retired, Cornwall lives in the small city of Wilmington in coastal North Carolina, spending many an evening reading a Ben Macintyre true-life page-turner about spies, sharing the sofa with her three standard poodles—Finn McCool, Louis, and Tristan. She supports Poodle Rescue Connecticut. “They’re smart, perceptive, loving dogs,” she says. “Let’s face it, there are an awful lot of dogs out there that need homes, even if they’re not puppies.”

And she looks forward to visiting the Williston campus again to interact with the students and enjoy the grounds. “Schools are under a lot of pressure,” she says. “I take tremendous pride in Williston, and in helping the school continue its vision.”