Downton Abbey producer to lecture

Award-winning alumna Rebecca Eaton ’69, who produced Sherlock, will return to campus on April 26 to receive the 2013 Alumnae and Alumni of Vassar College Distinguished Achievement Award. Photo By: Stephen Saint Onge
Award-winning alumna Rebecca Eaton ’69, who produced Sherlock, will return to campus on April 26 to receive the 2013 Alumnae and Alumni of Vassar College Distinguished Achievement Award. Photo By: Stephen Saint Onge
Award-winning alumna Rebecca Eaton ’69, who produced Sherlock, will return to campus on April
26 to receive the 2013 Alumnae and Alumni of Vassar College Distinguished Achievement Award. Photo By: Stephen Saint Onge

In 2011, Rebecca Eaton ’69 made the list of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people. And this Friday, April 26th, television producer Eaton will add to her extensive list of accolades; she will visit Vassar and receive the 2013 Alumnae and Alumni of Vassar College Distinguished Achievement Award.

Eaton is the Executive Producer at WGBH in Boston for PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery. She is responsible for introducing American audiences to Downton Abbey, the acclaimed British period drama loved worldwide.

She also produced Sherlock as well as other British dramas such as Inspector Morse, A Very British Coup, The Ginger Tree, and Bleak House. And she is not only known for television shows; she guided Masterpiece’s foray into movies with an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion and Mrs. Brown, an Academy Award–nominated film starring Dame Judi Dench.

For her work at WGBH, Eaton has received 65 Emmys, 18 Peabody Awards, 2 Golden Globe Awards, 1 BAFTA Award, and 2 Academy Award nominations. Queen Elizabeth has also made her an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. “Rebecca brings a wonderful humanism to everything she does,” noted John Mihaly ’74, Senior Director of Development for Regional Programs at Vassar.

The Alumni Recognition committee, a group of six alumni chaired by Karen Dowd ’84, chose to give Eaton this year’s Distinguished Achievement Award.

“The group is comprised of a mix of various Vassar grads – ranging from those who graduated in the 1970s to the late 2000s, men, women, people from different places, and people with different interests,” Dowd said.

She added, “Eaton came to the forefront of our list of potential candidates when she was nominated by Time. And in the last three years, the Downton Abbey phenomenon has spurred her into national prominence.”

Her senior year at Vassar, Eaton began her career in television. As part of a Vassar program, she interned at the BBC World Service in London. There she was a production assistant and secretary for sixteen months.

Yet Eaton’s interest in all things British was established far before stepping foot on English soil.  Her favorite book growing up was Jane Eyre and at Vassar, English major Eaton continued to immerse herself in British literature.

“At Vassar, Rebecca fell in love with the country and culture of England,” said Mihaly, and noted, “Julia McGrew, an English professor whose area of expertise was old English, captured her imagination.”

And taking after her mentor, Eaton is also eager to inspire Vassar students. On Friday, she has a busy schedule, consisting of meals with select English, Film, Drama and Media Studies majors as well as a career panel and an address to the college community. “She is the type of person that students will love interacting with,” noted Mihaly. “She has a warm presence and is very funny.”

The career panel will be from 2-3:15. Eaton will address students interested in working in television, production, marketing, and fundraising on the Second Floor of the Students’ Building.

She will be joined by her colleagues at WGBH and fellow Vassar grads Jamie Parker ‘79, Vice-President for Marketing and Communications at WGBH, and Vanya Tulenko ‘87, Director, Annual Major Gifts at WGBH.

“The panel will be centered on what opportunities exist for people in writing, acting and producing,” said Mihaly. “It will be informal; Rebecca is happy to answer any questions students have.”Later that day, at 5:00, Eaton will address the Vassar community and local alumni in a conversation format in the Taylor Hall Auditorium (203).

Dowd said, “Rebecca came into television when it was a male-dominated field. She graduated in 1969 and so the beginnings of her career corresponded with the beginnings of the women’s movement. She has a distinct story to tell, both because of her personal journey, and because of its backdrop – the women’s movement in the United States and abroad.”

After the lecture, a dinner will be held in her honor at the Alumnnae House that fifty of her former classmates will also attend.

“Rebecca deserves recognition for the wonderful work she has done. She has set the gold standard not only for public television but for the medium as a whole,” said Mihaly.

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