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Massey Award: Chancellors past, present praise Kirby

This is fourth article in a series on the four winners of the 1996 Massey Award.

Energetic, hard-working, charming and indispensable are adjectives three chancellors have used to describe Brenda W. Kirby.

For the past 16 years, Kirby has served several vital University functions: assistant to the chancellor, secretary to the University and assistant secretary to the Board of Trustees.

“The University owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to Brenda Kirby,” said Chancellor Michael Hooker. “Her exceptional dedication, insight and management abilities have provided the foundation for the success of two chancellors and numerous other administrators before me.

“As the third chancellor fortunate enough to work with her, I can only say that I am deeply grateful for her positive attitude, her comprehensive professionalism and her devotion to service.”

Kirby’s grace in dealing with the daily demands of a busy office while managing a five-member staff and interacting with a broad range of constituents earned her a 1996 C. Knox Massey Award for exceptional service.

“That she has . . . welcomed the chance to do any good thing in service to the University; that she has been an indispensable colleague for each chancellor and his staff; and that she has brought to the lives of all who deal with her a marvelously sunny spirit, a radiating joy in her work and an utterly reliable competence as a communicator in the chancellor’s office” make her a fitting award recipient, the citation read.

Because she wears so many hats crucial to University operations, it’s hard to describe fully Kirby’s myriad roles.

“My first duties are to the chancellor–working with his calendar to schedule appointments and conduct research necessary for the many meetings and dinners he attends,” she said.

One component of her work, Kirby said, is to serve as a liaison between the chancellor and other administrators–here and at other universities–as well as government officials, faculty and staff.

“People constantly call with questions for the chancellor,” she said. “Because I work so closely with the chancellor, many times I can anticipate how he would want a situation handled or put people in touch with others who can answer their questions.”

Chancellor Emeritus Paul Hardin affirmed Kirby’s skills as a link from the chancellor’s office to those needing information.

“Brenda knows more about South Building and the administration of UNC-Chapel Hill than anyone,” Hardin said. “Because of her long service, she has the confidence of the entire University community.

“She consistently handles difficult problems with perfect poise and is always cheerful, even when she’s under a mountain of work. Brenda expertly fields questions that can be handled by another office and those that require the chancellor’s personal attention. I found her indispensable.”

In fact, Kirby said, it’s the job’s challenge and variety that has kept her in such a hectic role so long.

“Being at the pulse of the University is exciting,” she said. “So many issues–many of which happen outside the University but affect the University–are handled by this office.

“Whether it’s providing information key to an item under consideration by the legislature or a reporter working on a story, my role is to find out the background information and brief the chancellor. No two days are ever alike.”

Working with the Board of Trustees is one of the things Kirby said she enjoys most.

“The board members have such different personalities and areas of expertise, I feel honored to work with them and be a part of their lives as they work on the University’s behalf.”

Provost Richard Richardson called Kirby the glue that held the University administration together.

“As hardworking as any employee in this University, she is the center of our entire administrative structure,” he said.

Kirby brought eight years of University experience to South Building. From 1972 to 1977, she worked for three Air Force ROTC colonels, then moved to the office of the dean of the School of Medicine, where she worked for former deans Stuart Bondurant and Christopher Fordham, who became chancellor in 1980.

Kirby assumed her current job to serve as Fordham’s assistant and has remained for 16 years.

“I was glad to hear that Brenda received the Massey Award; it was richly deserved,” Fordham said. “She’s given superb service to the University as an administrator, as an administrative assistant and as a good-will liaison between the chancellor’s office and almost every constituency.

“Brenda worked with me at the medical school, then my entire eight-and-a-half years as chancellor. We worked together for a decade, and every bit of it was a pleasure!”

Kirby’s work reaches nearly every aspect of the University community and those it affects.

“She has brought competence, continuity and class to the chancellor’s office for 16 years,” said H. Garland Hershey, vice provost for health affairs. “Her extensive understanding of the University’s people and programs permits the chancellor’s office to function smoothly and effectively.”

Chancellor Hooker echoed that sentiment: “Brenda perfectly exemplifies that spirit of the Massey Awards, and I am delighted to congratulate her on the latest in a long list of accomplishments.”

Originally published by University Gazette: June 19, 1996

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