Newsmakers: Honorary degrees, a new rabbi and a ‘housing hero’

Editor’s note: Newsmakers is a new weekly feature spotlighting accomplishments of Newton community members, businesses and organizations.

William James College awards three honorary degrees

On June 11, William James College held its 50th commencement ceremony, and the college awarded honorary degrees to three well-known locals: former CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, Framingham Police Chief Lester Baker and housing nonprofit leader Josephine McNeil.

Walensky served as the 19th director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2021 through 2023, on the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19.

Previously, Walensky was a professor at Harvard Medical School from 2012 through 2021 and chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital from 2017 through 2021.

Walensky has also used mathematical model-based research toward the promotion of global access to HIV prevention, screening, and care and has worked on more than 300 research publications affecting United States HIV testing and immigration policy and funding for HIV-related research and treatment.

Baker joined the Framingham Police Department in 2003 and was appointed chief in 2020. He’s been a hands-on public safety administrator focusing on evidence-based policing and crime prevention, and he’s been an advocate of the Jail Diversion Program.

Baker previously served on the Lexington Police Department and volunteers for several youth programs including the Police Athletic League’s boxing and basketball, the Read-Along program for local elementary school kids, and Bigs in Blue, a one-to-one mentoring program that connects youth with police.

Baker has been named MADD Greater Boston Officer of the Year and won the Chief’s Service Award, Distinguished Service Award, Police Service Award, Meritorious Service Award and others. 

McNeil is the executive director of Citizens for Affordable Housing in Newton Development Organization, Inc. (CAN-DO), a community-based nonprofit that creates and manages affordable housing.

Under McNeil’s leadership, CAN-DO has developed about 50 units of housing serving individuals with developmental disabilities, households headed by female survivors of domestic violence and formerly homeless veterans. And 43 of those units are deed-restricted to remain affordable.

McNeil is co-chair of Uniting Citizens for Housing Affordability in Newton (U-CHAN), educating the community about the need for housing options across income ranges.

McNeil’s alma mater Boston College Law School honored her with its David Nelson Public Service Award. She received the City of Newton’s Mayor’s Medallion Award as well as an award from the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership for her work on behalf of CAN-DO’s tenants. She was recognized as a Women of Justice by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly and named an Unsung Heroine by the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women. McNeil received the Woman of the Year award from the Women’s Law Center at Boston College Law School and was the recipient of the highest award presented by the Charles River Chamber of Commerce, the Robert L. Tennant Award for her advocacy of affordable housing in Newton.

William James College recently awarded honorary degrees to three professionals: Newton housing advocacy leader Josephine McNeil, former CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, and Framingham Police Chief Lester Baker. Courtesy Photo

B’nai Torah MetroWest Welcomes Rabbi Emily Mathis of Newton

Rabbi Emily Mathis of Newton will be joining B’nai Torah MetroWest in July. BTM members recently celebrated with a welcoming party for the new rabbi and the community.

“We are fortunate to have found a rabbi with so much experience and enthusiasm to lead our congregation as we begin the second year of B’nai Torah MetroWest,” BTM Board President Amy Siegel said.

Mathis graduated from Brown University and was ordained at Hebrew College. She spent seven years as the spiritual leader and pulpit rabbi at Temple Beth Shalom in Peabody. Before that, she directed programming in environmental education, urban gardening and family literacy.

“I’m looking forward to serving this congregation that has both a long history as a community and is also energized by the recent restructuring,” Mathis said. “As with Jewish tradition, we are at our best when we can weave together the lessons of our collective wisdom with dedication to our evolution and an eye to the future. With this renewal, we have the opportunity to build a Jewish life that will be engaging for the diversity of families and individuals in our community.”

Rabbi Emily Mathis, left, is joining B’nai Torah MetroWest. She’s shown here with seen here BTM Board President Amy Siegel. Courtesy Photo

MHP honors Charles River Chamber President Greg Reibman for housing advocacy

Massachusetts Housing Partnership has named one of four recipients of this year’s Housing Heroes awards.

Greg Reibman was chosen as a Housing Hero for his work promoting more housing and housing affordability in Greater Boston, especially in the communities the Charles River Chamber represents.

Reibman has made housing supply one of his primary focuses as Chamber president, and he’s been a vocal supporter of zoning reforms. 

“Housing is the direct pipeline to the jobs that we need, the jobs that we’re all struggling to fill,” Reibman said.

Greg Reibman, president of the Charles River Regional Chamber. Courtesy Photo