Four Women, One College, 131 Years of Service

June 3, 2005

Linda Fry, Betty Hairfield, Dudley Luck, and Charlotte Miller served Mary Baldwin University for a collective 131 years before their retirements in the 2004-05 academic year. At a reception and farewell party in May, the college showed its appreciation for their initiative, hard work, and commitment during their long tenures at Mary Baldwin. The following article appeared in the May/June issue of the college’s internal newsletter, Up Hill & Down:

Fry Found Family at Mary Baldwin

Linda FryLinda Fry has been the cheery face in the Administration Building for so long that it is difficult to imagine her anywhere else. Can you picture her cruising the highway in an RV, bound for Canada? That’s exactly where Linda intends to be shortly after retiring from her nearly 28-year career at Mary Baldwin University this spring.

“My husband and I bought a small RV a while ago, and it’s just begging for us to use it,” said Linda, who this year worked as the administrative assistant to the president after 17 years in the office of the Dean of the College. “Our first long trip will be a three-week adventure in Nova Scotia.” The RV will also be useful in transporting Linda, her husband, and their golden retriever to visit their two children in Colorado and Wyoming, she said.

During her long career as an administrative secretary, Linda has been privy to the personal information of professors and administrators. Her first position at the college was as faculty secretary and she subsequently worked with Dean Emeritus James Lott, Dean Jeff Buller, and, most recently, President Pamela Fox. She carefully guarded their privacy and their schedules and, in the meantime, she became part of their families and vice versa.

Smiling from behind her wire-rimmed glasses, Linda thought about the office anecdotes she will keep protected, even in retirement. “I know it’s clich&eacute, but I treat people as I want to be treated, and they have always noticed that and trusted me for it,” she said.

Linda joined the Mary Baldwin staff in 1977 as the college’s only faculty secretary – there are now four people who hold similar positions, located in Carpenter Academic Building, Pearce Science Center, Deming Fine Arts Center, and the Physical Activities Center. As a young woman entering her first full-time position after an extended leave to raise her children, Linda admits she was intimidated that most of the faculty were older than her and held doctoral degrees. She quickly learned she was valued as much for her skills as professors were for theirs, and by the time she moved into the Dean’s office in 1987, she had earned respect on campus. She has worked – usually unseen – on countless projects that keep the college running seamlessly, from monitoring faculty contracts to planning events such as Honors Convocation.

“I enjoy my work because I am not irritated by interruptions, and I go the extra step to help resolve problems rather than transferring a call to yet another voice mail box,” Linda said.

Hairfield Keeps the Best of Both Worlds

Betty HairfieldBetty Hairfield set up her retirement to take advantage of the best of both worlds: She won’t be full-time faculty, but she’ll see students on a regular basis. Next year, when she is officially professor emerita of chemistry, Betty will be on campus to teach chemistry labs with her husband, Hampton Hairfield, and will continue to teach classes in the Baldwin Online and Adult Programs.

Initially Betty didn’t want to teach in the South; in fact, she was looking for a job in the Northeast. While in a graduate program in chemistry at Bryn Mawr, she decided on a whim to apply for an assistant professorship in chemistry at Mary Baldwin. She got a phone call from “a delightfully genteel southern voice,” better known as Martha Grafton.

Dr. William Kelly, president of the college at that time, took her to breakfast the morning after her interview and drove her to the airport. He offered her the job on the spot.

“I wasn’t prepared for that. I had already applied for a job at Mills College in California and wasn’t ready to make such a quick decision. Dr. Kelly said, ‘Go to California and tell us what happens,’” she said.

One month – and several calls from Dr. Kelly – later, Betty made the bold decision to teach chemistry at Mary Baldwin. She didn’t intend to stay for more than a few years. That was 1970. Meeting her husband a year after she moved to Staunton helped keep her here. Her love for the college and her students has taken care of the rest for the past 35 years.

Betty’s favorite characteristic of Mary Baldwin is its Honor System, created and nurtured by students. “There are few colleges where students can schedule their exams the way we do it. A student knows she is not in danger of failing because she wakes up sick on the morning she planned to take her chemistry exam. She can take it the next day or later in the afternoon, in most cases,” Betty said.

Looking back at her time here, Betty regrets that some of her favorite traditions have turned into history. The last Sophomore Show was in 1986-87, and she misses the annual event when the sophomore class staged plays such as Gypsy, Mame, Li’l Abner, and Bye Bye Birdie. Sit down lunches, now antiquated, were also a favorite.

The college’s strong basis in the liberal arts has been a constant at Mary Baldwin during Betty’s long tenure. She has done much to keep the chemistry curriculum tied to that foundation, and she plans to continue to do so after retirement.

Luck Helped Launch Baldwin Online and Adult Programs

Dudley LuckThere was, indeed, some Luck involved in pioneering adult education at Mary Baldwin University – Dudley Luck, who became the Baldwin Online and Adult Programs’s founding director. Although hers is the name most people associate with Baldwin Online and Adult Programs’s genesis, Dudley is quick to defer the credit for the program’s start to many other people at Mary Baldwin. She says she was simply “at the right place at the right time” to play an instrumental role in the development of Baldwin Online and Adult Programs, which started with eight students in 1977 and now boasts almost 2,200 graduates.

When she was selected to chair the committee charged with creating a degree program for adults at Mary Baldwin, Dudley, in her fourth year at the college, thought that was as far as her involvement would go. The committee interviewed several people as potential directors for the program, but none were the perfect fit. “It scared me to death,” Dudley said about her surprise appointment as Baldwin Online and Adult Programs’s first director. “But, accepting it was the best thing I ever did.”

Dudley (her middle name, her first is Anne) will retire in May, as the director of the postgraduate teacher licensure program, with more than 30 years of experience at Mary Baldwin.

“I feel so fortunate to have been part of a program that has helped many adults reach their goals,” she said. The key was a solid system that has, at its core, faculty members who work as close advisors to individual students, she explained.

Dudley has worked in the same department throughout her career at the college. She said her tenure has been so long because of Mary Baldwin’s adaptability to the circumstances in her life. When her husband landed a job in Richmond, former Mary Baldwin president Virginia Lester and other college leaders realized that Baldwin Online and Adult Programs was ready to expand. Dudley helped open Mary Baldwin’s first regional center in 1982. In 2004, her husband’s work brought him back to the Shenandoah Valley, and Baldwin Online and Adult Programs again opened an office for Dudley on the main campus in Staunton. Here, she continued the work she started in 1988 as director of postgraduate teacher licensure.

A colorful painting of the Blue Ridge Mountains as seen through a thicket of trees occupies almost an entire wall in Dudley’s office on the second floor of Baldwin Online and Adult Programs House. “That’s where we’re going to build our house,” she tells all who inquire. Overseeing the construction of her dream house near the Blue Ridge Parkway will take up most of the first part of her retirement. She also plans to take more walks in the woods with her dogs, practice yoga, and learn a tactile, creative art.

“I will never forget how wonderful it felt to see those first Baldwin Online and Adult Programs students graduate. I said to myself, ‘Wow, this program really works!’”

Miller Remembered As ‘Voice’ of Mary Baldwin

Charlotte MillerCharlotte Miller was one of the most recognizable voices at Mary Baldwin University for decades. When she started working at the switchboard in the college’s security office in the 1970s, there were no phones in student rooms and no one could make a long distance call from campus without being patched through by the operator – usually her. The switchboard was Mary Baldwin’s lifeline to the outside world, and Charlotte was its surgeon.

“I met a lot of people working in that office,” said Charlotte, who retired in January after 37 years of service. “As the operator, you get the inside scoop on a lot of people, especially when I first started here and we had to handle a lot more calls.”

Charlotte remembers recognizing the voices of people who called frequently for certain students, and she recalls putting through long distance calls for faculty emeriti such as Ethel Smeak, Joe Garrison, and David Cary.

“I felt like I knew the personal aspects of people’s lives, and I respected their privacy. We felt like a family, and I certainly felt like a mother to many students – listening to their complaints and giving advice,” Charlotte said.

Charlotte began her tenure at the college as a housekeeper in 1968, and, shortly after, moved to food service where she set up lunches, coffee and tea breaks, and receptions when the Board of Trustees and other influential college groups visited campus. During that time, she started filling in occasional shifts at switchboard, and by the early 1980s she was the office supervisor.

The necessity of 24-hour coverage at switchboard meant Charlotte worked her share of night shifts and double shifts over the years – when the television set in the office was her sole companion. One of the favorite aspects of her job: calling people when they have flowers or packages to pick up from friends or family.

On Valentine’s Day, the office brims with blooms. “It’s nice to see the surprise and smiles on their faces,” Charlotte said. “We did have a student once, though, whose mother sent flowers every week, and, after a while, she just stopped coming to get them.”

Charlotte has been officially retired for a few months, but she said it is just beginning to feel real. “I’ve been working most of my life, so it’s an adjustment ? A good adjustment.”

Speaking from Experience

What characteristics or skills does a person need to have for a long career at Mary Baldwin?

Linda Fry:A “customer service” personality and the ability to complete jobs quickly, and at the last minute. When I came to Mary Baldwin more than 27 years ago, it was stressed that we were here for the students. I still believe this.

Betty Hairfield:One must love teaching and interacting with students. One also needs the ability to relate well with other faculty and staff, and be flexible. A “partner” helps a lot. I would not have been successful without Hampton as a source of research ideas as well as a laboratory partner.

Dudley Luck:I don’t really think it’s any characteristic that I have, but rather that Mary Baldwin allows people to grow in whatever role they have. The college gives you choices and ways to expand to tailor your position.

Charlotte Miller:Remember people when you come in contact with them; they may play a significant role in your life later on.

What will you miss most about your work at Mary Baldwin?

Fry:I will miss the people and the students most, and our beautiful campus. Perhaps one of the reasons there are so many older employees here, including myself, is that we see our colleagues work as hard as we do, and we still take time to be courteous. We feel appreciated for a job well done.

Hairfield:It is hard to believe that what I will miss most are the things I always wanted to get away from – faculty and committee meetings, ordering chemicals and equipment, grading homework and exams, and worrying if students will fail.

Luck:Relationships with my colleagues, whom I admire and respect. That, and fixing situations for my students. You don’t easily replace those kinds of relationships.

Miller:Contact with students – whether they came in to gripe about something or deliver me cookies or flowers, I welcomed their company.