Who is that?” I whispered conspiratorially to my date at last year’s New York City Ballet Gala in advance of NYCB’s annual summer debut at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. “She’s fantastic!” And, in an instant, I found myself meeting and double-cheek air kissing the indefatigable, smiling force of nature known as Judy Harrigan.
As a Gotham transplant to Saratoga Springs mere months earlier, I could always spot a fellow restless Manhattanite and, boy, did I ever find myself a true-blue New Yorker in this Miss Judy. After three decades of head-turning professional accomplishments—as a marketing research and strategy specialist at Kraft General Foods and later at advertising agency titans Lintas, Ted Bates and J. Walter Thompson, the Latham native was ready to return to her Capital Region roots and came to Saratoga with the idea of winding down her career to focus on philanthropy and the arts. Well, not so fast. “I’ve continued to work from Saratoga with Fortune 500 clients on domestic and international research,” Harrigan says. “Everyone fails at something and for me it’s retirement.”
A board member at SPAC, the preternaturally happy Shaker High grad grew up in a family that celebrated adventure. “My family had an aviation business, which allowed me to fly solo at 16 and get my pilot’s license by the time I left for Cornell University,” Harrigan says. She followed that up with a PhD from SUNY Albany in Experimental Psychology, all the while becoming a certified scuba diver, solo skydiver and eventually joining a woman’s racing team in NYC sponsored by Nike. Constant movement is the norm for this dynamo.
When you meet Judy Harrigan for the first time she gives off a sophisticated yet casual air, exactly like the women actress Patricia Clarkson (HBO’s Sharp Objects) has made an award-winning career of portraying. In short, you want to be her friend. Happily, I convinced this asset to Saratoga to become mine. I still whisper to anyone within earshot when I see Judy Harrigan walk into the room: “Isn’t she fantastic?!”
From growing up in Latham to thriving in Manhattan, what’s been the biggest surprise on your incredible journey thus far?
The biggest surprise is that Manhattan is a series of Lathams. People in New York City identify with and are passionate about their neighborhoods. If asked where you live, you would never say Manhattan, but instead your neighborhood: the Upper West Side, the Village, Hell’s Kitchen, SoHo. I was a committed Upper Westsider for its then casual and a bit irreverent tone, brownstones and prewar architecture, Lincoln Center and half of Central Park.
Working for mega-watt advertising agencies Lintas, Ted Bates and J. Walter Thompson, how was your own Mad Men experience?
It was crazy intense and crazy fun! I worked on international accounts and new business pitches, which was adrenaline filled: numerous business trips to Europe, two out of three nights on overnight flights to/from London, taking the Concorde (a thrill for this private pilot) and more—so much more.
Paris, New York City, London and Saratoga: Describe each city you love with one word.
Paris: magical; New York City: exciting; London: absorbing; Saratoga: welcoming.
As a board member and an enthusiast, what do you think makes SPAC so special?
SPAC is magical, exciting, absorbing and welcoming. I remember in high school the incredible experience of sitting on the lawn at SPAC for the very first time. The performances were truly magnificent and reinforced my desire to more fully experience the arts and the broader world.