Skip to main content

Linda Naylor finds a nest in South Building

It took Linda Naylor a long time to settle in one place. Of course, for a long time she never had any say in the subject of where she lived.

During the Great Depression, her father had gone to sea on the Great Lakes with the U.S. Merchant Marine. He started out at the age of 18 wiping oil off the engines and would become the youngest man to be licensed as a chief engineer.

His work kept him away from home and would end up carrying him off to war about the time Naylor, the oldest of his five children, was born in Baltimore in 1941.

“He didn’t have any ships sunk under him, but four ships that he had sailed on were sunk on their very next voyage,” Naylor said.

She was 4 when her father returned from the war and decided to move his family to Kenton, Ohio, outside Dayton, to be closer to his parents.

By ’46, they were supposed to move to California, but they ended up stopping in Arizona to visit her uncle. What was supposed to be a brief visit turned into an eight-year stay. Finally, in ’54, they moved to Costa Mesa, Calif., where Naylor would graduate from high school.

Maybe all that moving around as a child is one of the reasons why Naylor has decided to work in South Building for so long and has come to be seen as an anchor of stability through the seas of change.

It is this kind of steady, reliable and stellar service that won Naylor a 2004 C. Knox Massey Award.

The citation for the Massey Award said Naylor had spent 17 of her 24 years of University employment in the provost’s office, with four provosts and one interim provost having benefited from her “knowledge about Carolina and the people who comprise the University.”

“Linda is one of the most valuable staff members the University of North Carolina currently has on this campus,” said Robert Shelton, executive vice chancellor and provost. “She retains a vast amount of institutional history, information that is an asset to any new administrator who enters South Building.”

Co-workers describe her not only as an effective office manager but a person who is the epitome of grace and decorum and who treats everyone with whom she works with compassion, understanding and fairness.

In short, Shelton said, “she is the ideal executive assistant.”

The long journey

Getting to Carolina with her own family, she will tell you, was as long a journey, in miles and years, as getting to California had been as a girl.

And it happened that way because Naylor decided to marry into the U.S. Army, the same way her mother had married into the Merchant Marine.

She met Paul Naylor in the summer of ’62. At the time, she was pursuing a degree in public administration from the University of Denver and was home for the summer working in the registrar’s office at Orange Coast College in California. Paul was a Specialist 5 in the Army working on a degree to earn a direct commission as a second lieutenant.

The Army sent Paul to the college to earn a degree in computer programming, and she was one of the staff who clicked the punch cards. When they met in the office, something between them clicked, too.

“Paul took me out for dinner, not a date, and a movie,” Naylor said.

It was not a date, Naylor made clear, because in a few days an airman stationed in Spain would be coming home, and in a few weeks they were set to marry.

But when she saw her fiancé she broke the engagement. Something inside her just knew, she said.

She and Paul got their marriage license the same day Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, and they held the wedding the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. For the next two decades, Naylor would build her life around the packing and unpacking of suitcases.

In November of 1964, they would be sent to Zweibrucken, Germany.

They came back to the states in 1966 for Paul to work as an instructor at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

Their oldest daughter, Katherine, was born Aug. 9, 1968. Their second daughter, Stephanie, was born Sept. 3, 1970. It was a Friday afternoon, Naylor remembers, and Paul left for Vietnam the following Monday. He returned home on Aug. 9, 1971, on Katherine’s birthday.

Paul stayed in the Army another eight years and retired as a major in January of 1979. By then, Paul had earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree from George Washington University and had applied to six universities to earn his doctorate, including Carolina.

That Memorial Day weekend, the Naylors moved to Durham and Paul started school at Carolina.

Putting down roots

School also turned out to be the best place for Linda to work.

She started working part-time at the herbarium under curator Jim Massey and worked out a schedule so she could be at home for her husband and two daughters.

In 1987, a year after Katherine went off to St. Andrews College in Laurinburg, Naylor began looking for a full-time job. She found it in South Building, working for Carol Reuss, the newly appointed assistant provost for educational services.

Other bosses with various titles would come and go, and Naylor stayed put to serve them all. They included people like Sam Williamson and Dennis O’Connor and Dick McCormick and Dick Richardson and now Shelton. All have been a pleasure to work for, yet they all had their own special style, Naylor said. McCormick could turn out more correspondence than anybody she has ever seen in her life, she said. When McCormick left to serve as president of the University of Washington in Seattle, a woman who would be working for him called Naylor to ask her what to expect.

“Buy yourself a couple of new file cabinets,” Naylor told her.

At this point she has not given any thought to retirement, although she knows one of these days she will have to start. “I still enjoy coming to work every day,” Naylor said.

As a general rule, she doesn’t like e-mail. Yes, there is a cold efficiency to it, but she still likes the sound of somebody’s voice on the phone, or their smile if they come by the office to talk.

Although she wields no official position of authority, she has over the years earned a degree of respect from administrators that they expect to hear what she thinks about an issue — and she expects them to hear her out.

Even though she has been doing the same job for years, it remains fresh because there is no settled routine. “There’s a lot going on at this University, and this office and this building is where a lot of it happens.”

Stephanie graduated from Carolina in 1992 and since has earned two master’s degrees and is working on her doctorate in social work here while working as director of the INTERACT, a domestic abuse shelter in Raleigh.

Katherine and her husband John live in Austin, Texas. She teaches first grade, and he is an executive producer of an evening news show.

“You can also put in there that they gave me the world’s greatest grandson,” Naylor said. Andrew, or Drew as he is called, turned 5 on Aug. 26.


Originally published by University Gazette: Sept. 1,2004

Comments are closed.