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Bernie Curtis, Graduate School

By Susan Trulove

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 16 - January 16, 1997

Bernie Curtis, who worked in the Graduate School for 25 years and was a friend to hundreds of people around the university, and to thousands of former students, died over the holidays.

Curtis first came to work at Virginia Tech in 1968 in the psychology department, then moved to Northern Michigan University from 1970 to 1971,before returning to Virginia Tech for good.

Paul Hoepner, now in agricultural economics but once associate dean and acting dean of the Graduate School, said he and Curtis joined the Graduate School on practically the same day in 1971. "She kept me straight for eight years," he says. "She was the dearest, most loyal, competent co-worker I've known in 38 years. She was not bashful about letting me know when I was wrong. She'd sit me down and say, 'Paul, you listen to me.' But she was kind to a fault and we never had a cross word."

Roger Teekel, now dean of agriculture at LSU, worked with Curtis for 12 years while he was associate dean and dean of the Graduate School. "She was the most dedicated professional I ever worked with," he said. "She always had the best interest of the graduate student at heart."

Her concern was not only professional, he recalled. She would give students her number or get their phone number, then stay late to counsel them on her own time. Students would share their personal as well as professional concerns with Curtis, Teekel said.

"Bernie wore many hats while working in the Graduate School," says Gail Williams, executive secretary to the vice provost for research and dean of the Graduate School. Williams, who worked with Curtis for many years, recalls, "She was 100-percent totally dedicated to the students, faculty, and staff. She let her staff know we were there to serve the students; if not for them we would not have jobs. She taught us to go the extra mile to help them.

"Although Bernie was the administrative assistant, she would do whatever needed to be done-work for the dean, clean out files, whatever," says Williams. "She didn't care what the job before her was; it was to be done PROPERLY."

Williams concludes, "She was a mom, a friend, and a first-class office manager to her staff. She carried a whole lot of history of the Graduate School with her."

Don McKeon, director of GTA training, said "She provided continuity through several changes in leadership." Curtis put in long hours, McKeon said. She suffered from emphysema for many years and would have to get up early and workout for an hour to clear her lungs before coming to work. "Then you couldn't get her to go home," McKeon recalled. "If you were here at 6:30, she was too."

Sam Morgan said, "If you had a problem or needed help, Bernie could solve the problem and provide the help-with a smile." Morgan, associate professor in educational leadership and policy studies, knew Curtis for 24 years.

"Bernie had a sense of commitment and a sense of compassion and an eagerness to help that we don't have in the Graduate School now. That's not a criticism; that was just an attribute that Bernie had and she brought it to that organization."

Hap Bonham agreed. "Bernie Curtis was the most thoughtful and helpful person in the Graduate School when I was in charge of our MBA program. Whenever I would call, she first wanted to know how I was doing, and she was sincere in her asking. She always thought about the other person first.

"If you had a question, Bernie usually knew the answer," Bonham said. If she did not, she would return your telephone call within the hour with an answer. If you had a situation for which you did not know a solution, Bernie would talk it through with you until an acceptable solution was found.

"She loved this institution and the graduate students with whom she worked. "Bonham said, "She was a loved colleague and I will continue to miss her when I visit the Graduate School."

John Eaton, associate dean for Graduate Studies, knew Curtis both when he was a faculty member in entomology and as a colleague in the Graduate School. "As a faculty member, I always knew I could get help from her at any time. Help was given freely and generously, and she never chastised me for my mistakes or ignorance of Graduate School rules," Eaton said. "When I became an administrator in the Graduate School, Bernie became a mentor. She gave me guidance, corrected my mistakes, and was always ready to consider ways of improving the service provided by the Graduate School to the students, faculty, and staff."