Skip to main content

Equal measures of motherly care and respect earn Breeden a Massey

Pamela Breeden, 2009 Massey Award winner, outside Spencer residence hall on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. KEYWORDS: housekeeping  massey
Pamela Breeden, 2009 Massey Award winner, outside Spencer residence hall on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

PAMELA BREEDEN WORKED at Duke University for 23 years, but don’t hold that against her. Even though she grew up in Durham almost under the shadow of the Duke campus, she remained a Carolina fan.

She began at Duke wheeling patients from their rooms to radiology, and then she became a darkroom technician developing X-rays before she moved on to become a filing clerk in cardiology research. All of the jobs, to varying degrees, required that Breeden be on her feet, moving from one place to the next, bumping into people.

Computers would end up turning her filing job into a data entry position in which she spent her days in front of a computer pecking at a keyboard. She grew restless. She was the kind of person who liked being on her feet – and bumping into people.

She got that when she left Duke to work as a beautician for five or six years. She liked doing hair and the friendly banter with customers, but standing on her feet for eight hours or more a day turned into a different kind of grind.

And it was a job that came with no health benefits or pension.

So, some five years ago she gave up her comb and scissors to come to the University to work as a housekeeper. What she brought with her was a love of people – and a deep-seated ethic for pleasing her customers.

Breeden said she never had a worry about dealing with teenagers when she took the job because she figured if she treated them with respect they would reciprocate.

She received more than she had bargained for when nine students from Spencer Residence Hall nominated her for a 2009 C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award.

They wrote in their letter, “We all know her as ‘Ms. Pam’ and she is definitely a part of the Spencer family.”

Again and again, Breeden offered to do things that went beyond her official duties – from helping a student move in to asking students about their families and how they were doing in their classes to sensing that a student needed a smile or a kind word to overcome feeling down.

“She treats us like we are her children, which is very comforting because for most of us this is the first time we have been away from our family for an extended period of time,” the student nominators wrote.

Breeden said she treated the students at Spencer the way she hoped her own daughter, now a student at N.C. A&T State University, was being treated – with a proper dose of care and respect. She also has an older son.

In some ways, Breeden said, the students at Spencer filled her empty nest when her daughter left for college. She could not read minds, but Breeden said she could read moods just by the look on students’ faces.

“Some mornings they were kind of sluggish but if I would say, ‘Morning, how you doing,’ I could kind of pep them up that way,” Breeden said. “I just treated them the way I liked to be treated.”

She made a point to look out for the first-year students, especially the girls who walked down the hallway with a lost look on their faces. “I would tell them, ‘Oh, you must be a freshman. It’s going to be all right, baby.’”

Breeden said she carries a little radio around with her as she does her work and some of the students picked up on her musical taste – rhythm and blues mostly, from Marvin Gaye to Earth, Wind and Fire, Al Green to Aretha Franklin, James Brown to The Temptations.

Breeden said reaching out to students also enriches her experience and makes going to work every day something to look forward to. She doesn’t mind the work, but it is the students she befriends that make the job into something more, she said.

Megan Karney, a resident adviser at Spencer, said Breeden kept the residence hall in pristine condition, but the passion and dedication that Breeden displayed in her job extended to the students around her.

“Every morning when I hear her outside my door, I open it just to say hello and receive some of her positive energy,” Karney said. “Every morning when I go to class I hear, ‘Good morning Megan. Have a great day!’ coming from the bathroom where she is diligently working.

“Be it a call from the bathroom, a conversation in the hallway, or a honk as she drives past us on campus, Ms. Pam has greatly contributed to the positive energy and community development between the housing residents.”

Originally published by University Gazette: July 15, 2009

Comments are closed.