Saybrook College Master Mary Miller GRD ’81, who took the helm of her college at a difficult point in its history, announced to Saybrugians on Wednesday that this year will be her last as master.

Miller, an art-history scholar who was recently named a Sterling Professor — the University’s highest academic rank — stepped into her post in 1999 and saw the college through its renovation during the 2000-’01 school year. She will spend half of next year away from Yale as the A.W. Mellon Professor at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., delivering a series of lectures that will later be published as a book.

In an e-mail sent to Saybrugians yesterday, Miller said she and her husband, Japanese Studies professor Edward Kamens, “have developed an enduring affection for the hundreds of students we’ve come to know” over her near decade as master.

Miller assumed her role at a tumultuous time. In 1998 her predecessor, former geology professor Antonio Lasaga, was arrested on charges of sexual assault and possession of child pornography, for which he is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence. That same year, Suzanne Jovin ’99 a Davenport senior, was murdered and a former Saybrook dean was the only person named as a suspect.

“[Miller] truly revitalized Saybrook and introduced a sense of community to the college at a time when it really needed it,” said Judith Krauss, master of Silliman College and chair of the Council of Masters. “It really was a critical time for Saybrook to have stability, to have someone who was committed to the idea of a residential college and the needs of students.”

Of all of her experiences as master, Miller said she remembers most one event that helped kick-start college life in the newly renovated Saybrook. She played the part of Lady Capulet in a staging of Romeo and Juliet that took the audience through the courtyards of Saybrook and neighboring Branford College, whose residents played the Montagues. Miller said she relished students’ enthusiasm. The students were her favorite part of the job, she said.

“There’s so much exciting creative energy that most professors never get to see,” she said in an interview Wednesday night.

Her love for the students was obvious, students interviewed said.

“You always know she’s going to be there for you,” said Nava Rafati ’11. “She’s completely devoted to Saybrook. She went to the dining hall today and spoke to everyone.”

Eileen Regan ’10 said it really helped to have Miller there to comfort her while her mother told her that her father was having a bypass.

“My mother called her first,” she said.

Miller said she wants to make the transition as smooth as possible for her successor — a luxury she did not have. She looks to the transition of masters in Jonathan Edwards College — long-serving JE Master Gary Haller will yield his post to Richard Lalli in January — as a model, she said. Lalli, who was named to the post in March, has been able to shadow Haller since then to get to know the job and the students.

There is no prescribed set of qualities Saybrook’s next master should have, Miller said.

“There are many different ways to be a good master,” she said. “If it were a one-size-fits-all system, the colleges would not be the wonderfully distinct places they are.”

University President Richard Levin will soon announce a search committee comprising fellows of the college to find a new master for Saybrook College.