GILFORD — Two-time Silver Olympic Medalist Penny Pitou can now add a Doctor of Humane Letters to her long and impressive list of accomplishments. She recently received an honorary degree from Franklin Pierce University during this year's commencement exercises held at the school's Rindge campus.
Dr. Ron Hammond, assistant to the president of Franklin Pierce, later commented on Pitou's selection, "A theme usually emerges when we pick the candidates for honorary degrees. Dr. James Birge, president of Franklin Pierce, takes great pride in New Hampshire and strives to include and invite local people.
We thought of Penny Pitou for this honor because of the 40thanniversary of Title IX, which promoted equality for girls and women in sports. Since Penny won her Olympic medals before Title IX was passed in 1972, she obviously had a tremendous influence on bringing about equality for women athletes. Penny grew up in NH, became a world-class athlete, and then chose to stay in NH even though she could have lived anywhere in the world. After she returned from the Olympics, she successfully transformed herself into an entrepreneur and raised a wonderful family."
"I know she was honored, but honestly, we are the ones that are very, very fortunate to have had her accept this degree. She brought a tremendous amount of humility, humor, and glamor to our ceremony," he added.
During an interview in which she discussed her new degree, Pitou revealed how she felt about being chosen for this honor. "I've attended many, many events and have received numerous awards, but this one is very, very special – it was an extraordinary experience for me," she said. "The people of Franklin Pierce couldn't have made me feel more at home, and they really made the day."
At the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, CA, Pitou won Silver medals in the Downhill and in the Giant Slalom, making her the first American ever to capture an Olympic medal in downhill. Shortly afterward, she was inducted into the U. S. Ski Hall of Fame and later into the New England Women's Sports Hall of Fame.
After her return to NH following the Olympics, she used her entrepreneurial spirit to make her mark in the business world. She worked with husband Egon Zimmermann, and together they ran the Penny Pitou Ski School at Gunstock as well as another branch in Blue Hills, Mass.
Today, she owns and operates Penny Pitou Travel Inc. on Canal Street in Laconia and an additional branch in North Conway. She travels the world, is fluent in several languages, and in between juggling her careers throughout the years, she raised two successful sons.
Fellow residents of the state receiving honorary degrees this year with Pitou were Gary Hirshberg, co-founder of Stonyfield Yogurt, Meg Cadoux Hirshberg, nonfiction writer, and Lloyd Astmann, outgoing chairman of the board of trustees of Franklin Pierce University.
Olympic Medalist Penny Pitou of Gilford is shown here as she is "hooded" during her acceptance of a Doctor of Humane Letters from Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, NH. She was one of four individuals that received honorary degrees this year.