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Louise Dudley
Photo by Andrew Shurtleff
Louise Dudley, U.Va.’s spokeswoman for the past 12 years, stands in front of Pavilion VIII, where she worked as a young writer when she joined the University — for the first time — in 1964.

By Anne Bromley

Not many people would have the courage to take up running at 60. Louise Dudley did. Nor would many contemplate signing up for a Latin course when they retire. But Louise Dudley plans to.

Both of these endeavors reflect what many at the University have come to know as Dudley’s trademarks – speed and a desire to learn new things. Add to that her reputation for honesty and evenhandedness with the news media and you begin to get the picture of who she is.

“After years of working with Louise on both easy and tough stories I can say this about her — she knew her stuff,” said Carlos Santos of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “And when she didn’t know the answer, she knew who did. She was good on deadline. It was hard to get her flustered. She was accurate. She was too careful to speak in colorful quotes, but she had a vast knowledge of the workings of U.Va. and especially of the Board of Visitors. She made my job easier, and I’ll miss her.”

Santos held what he considers the ultimate compliment until last. “I could hardly tell when she was spinning a story.”

As U.Va. spokeswoman and assistant vice president for University Relations, Dudley has for the past dozen years served as the face, voice, and sometimes the heart, of the institution. She is the person on the evening news and in the morning paper explaining, confirming, and telling it like it is.

“To every situation, and this is especially true in crisis situations, Louise brings a calm, level-headed approach, and is able to provide University leaders with appropriate, thoughtful analysis,” said Robert Sweeney, senior vice president for University development and public affairs and the person to whom Dudley reports.

At the end of December, Dudley, who turns 63 in January, will leave the University to throw herself into the next phase of her life – no doubt with the same vigor with which she has carried out her career here.

Awaiting her attention are two young grandchildren, a husband eager to get her out on the golf course, stacks and stacks of books, and many miles of Charlottesville pavement still to be run.

Dudley joined the University the first time in 1964 as a writer, and the second time 25 years later as director of News Services when husband Earl joined the Law School faculty. In between, she raised two children – a son who teaches philosophy at Williams College and a daughter who’s tops in her Georgetown University law school class – and became an editor of educational journals. Two years after rejoining the University community she became director of University Relations.

Since then she has worked closely with nearly every member of U.Va.’s community, serving on dozens of committees, chairing many of them, and acting as an unofficial source of all things large and small about U.Va. One would not want to play a game of University Trivial Pursuit with Dudley, who has a steel-trap mind for facts and figures.

Over the past decade, she has forged trusting relationships with untold numbers of people, perhaps the most important ones with University President John T. Casteen III and Leonard W. Sandridge, executive vice president and chief operating officer.

“Louise brought principled, judicious, and energetic leadership to one of our most important activities--telling the University's story to the public and providing forthright, timely responses when questions are asked--and in the process taught valuable lessons to all who serve the University,” said President John T. Casteen III. “She has been our best ambassador in good and bad times. Always, she has spoken for the importance of the University's purpose and for the democratic premise that brought it into existence.”

Said Sandridge, to whom Dudley reported for more than 10 years, “When I have a controversial issue or a crisis, I always rely on Louise, not only because she handles the University’s communications superbly, but also because I trust her judgment, learn from her advice and respect her as a person. The media and the local community depend on her views and opinions.”

What he did not say is that Dudley also taught him how to be a crackerjack editor.

But while she was coaching him, she said, Sandridge was coaching her on how to handle tough situations with a steady grace. “Leonard has been a great mentor. I got to watch him closely and observe how he deals with issues and people,” Dudley said. “Bill Fishback (also a former boss) was another who by example prepared me for things to come.”

Those “things” have included the collapse of a Lawn pavilion balcony during graduation and the near-fatal accident of actor Christopher Reeve to the visit of former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev and intense media scrutiny of the Honor System. All of which Dudley handled with customary calm and candor.

She has passed on these skills to others, coaching her staff, student leaders and faculty members scheduled to speak with national media on all sorts of controversial issues, giving them the benefit of her experience, sound advice and gentle reassurance.

“Part of what we do [in University Relations] is also part of U.Va.’s academic mission — to educate,” Dudley said. “Our mission is to help create goodwill for the University by helping people understand what we do.”

It was this outlook – and all the University-wide outreach that Dudley has done over the years – that led to her receiving the Elizabeth Zintl Leadership Award last year.

When Fishback, her now-retired predecessor, hired her as news director, he said it was an easy decision. They had worked together two decades earlier when Earl Dudley was a law student. At that time, it was Dudley who, as a young staff writer, welcomed Fishback as her new boss and immediately took on the role of teaching him the ropes.

“She trained me, and I learned a lot,” said Fishback with a chuckle. “Even though she was quite young, Louise was highly regarded, and she still is.”

Dudley said the institutional values that have guided her were in place here when she returned.

“Always tell the truth … and try to be forthright,” she said. “It’s important to recognize that reporters have a job to do, and getting out accurate information is essential.”

Anyone who knows Dudley well knows how deep her loyalty and love for the University run.

“One of the things I’ve loved about my job is the element of surprise. Even though I came in on any given day thinking I knew what I’d be doing, it almost never turned out that way,” Dudley said. “And as a result, I’ve learned about how to patch Astroturf, the per-bed cost of building a dormitory, the rules for protecting human subjects in research — or for investigating cemeteries on public property … The sheer range of activity at the University and all the great people who make it happen are what I’m going to miss the most.”


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