One hundred forty years of institutional memory

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs


4 staffers

Above left: Richard Peters likes to get away from the office to sit by Strawberry Creek, thinking about computer programming. Above right: Lillian Brock, despite job offers from the private sector, has stayed loyal to the campus because of the growth potential and cultural environment here. Lower left: Zandra LeDuff calls herself a “griot” for Capital Projects. (The term is African, meaning village historian and storyteller.) People who want to know how things have been done previously “don’t have to look in a book,” she says. “They can just ask me.”Lower right: bringing an intellectual curiosity with her from a stifling experience at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Joyce Burks fled her home state for the freedom of Berkeley in the mid-1960s. Now she’s a “secretary,” and proud of it.
Peg Skorpnski photos

09 October 2002 |

At a Tuesday, Oct. 15 luncheon, hundreds of staff reaching career milestones will be honored for their service to the campus. Among those being recognized are four 35-year veterans, who here share some of the experiences that have shaped their long tenure at Berkeley.

Richard Peters
Central Computing Services

While pursuing a chemistry degree at Berkeley during the mid-1960s, Richard Peters came to an important realization: His true passion lay not in carbon, plutonium, or argon, but in computers.

He got a chance to indulge this love when the university hired him as a programmer in 1967, a job he has held ever since. The challenges of the work, as well as the campus’s physical attractiveness, diversity of thought, and high academic standards have kept Peters here for 35 years.

“When I walk through the campus, I never get over how beautiful it is,” Peters says. “I love to escape the interruptions of the office and sit by Strawberry Creek to think creatively about program design and processes.”

As a new employee during one of the campus’s most tumultuous periods, Peters witnessed his share of protests. And while he wasn’t a “main-line rebel,” he feels Berkeley, and other universities facing similar conflicts, didn’t handle the situation very well.

“There was a large paradigm shift going on here, with young people trying to address legitimate issues,” Peters explains. “But the administration saw it as a power struggle, so the resolution process was inflamed.”

Some 15 years later, Peters experienced another paradigm shift: the dramatic evolution of computer technology. When he first started programming, Berkeley’s computer center had just one large machine, an IBM 7090, used primarily for scientific research. Now there are hundreds of servers on campus, along with thousands of desktop machines.

Being at the forefront of this revolution in the early 1970s figures among his most valued experiences at Cal.

“Those early years were exciting,” says Peters. “It was like exploring a frontier; we were trying to solve problems with little or no direction.”

Keeping up with all the new technologies is challenging, he admits, and is sometimes better suited to the department’s more youthful staff. But the “elder statesmen” in the group contribute other valuable things.

“What makes our unit work so well is the balance between the younger generation’s knowledge of emerging technologies and the older generation’s experience in producing viable, long-lasting systems,” he says. “If the dotcom startups had employed this concept, maybe they wouldn’t have bombed so quickly.”

Lillian Brock
Business and Administrative Services

Unlike Peters, Lillian Brock has done a tour of duty at the university, holding jobs at the Office of the President, UC Printing, Physical Plant–Campus Services, the Center for the Study of Higher Education, Contracts and Grants (now Sponsored Projects), and the Chancellor’s Office. She is now assistant for special projects to the vice chancellor for business and administrative services.

“There’s so much growth potential at Berkeley,” says Brock. “With initiative and energy, one can really take advantage of the diversity of jobs here. It’s like a small city.”

Brock credits her productive career to the generous supervisors she had in the early years — people who helped her develop a strong work ethic and pride in her job. She’s carried these principles with her throughout the years.

Having come to Berkeley fresh out of high school, Brock recalls as “a little scary” the demonstrations taking place on campus at the time. “I can remember going to lunch and seeing officers lined up, holding rifles with bayonets on the end,” she says. “But I feel the campus needed to go through this turmoil to achieve the relative calm that exists today.”

In retrospect, she feels the volatile atmosphere made her and other staff stronger people. “We had to continue doing our work regardless of what was going on outside. The job was the priority, because the campus had to continue to function.”

Her work here is still a priority. Despite being recruited by the private sector, Brock has stayed loyal to the campus, drawn by job satisfaction, growth potential, and the cultural environment.

“I love walking through Sproul Plaza and seeing the flurry of student activity, strolling down Telegraph to check out all the vendor crafts, and being able to eat in such a variety of ethnic restaurants,” says Brock. “But perhaps what’s most important are the countless friendships I’ve developed on campus over the years. There’s really no place like Berkeley.”

Zandra LeDuff
Capital Projects

Zandra LeDuff is one of those people with whom Lillian Brock built a relationship. Early in their careers, both worked with the campus architects, and they’ve stayed in contact ever since. But while Brock ventured off to other corners of the campus, LeDuff remained in what would become Capital Projects for the next 30 years.

LeDuff first visited Berkeley to join a protest against Gov. Ronald Reagan’s firing of UC President Clark Kerr. Within a few years she found herself on the other side of the picket lines, as an employee working in the Architects and Engineers Building just north of Sproul Hall.

She started her career as a typist-clerk, eventually working her way through the ranks to manager of human resources for Capital Projects, her current position. Her stint there has given her a unique perspective on the university’s long history. “When I was working as a contract administrator, I once stumbled upon the building contract for Bowles Hall, the first residence hall on campus,” she says. “I was amazed to see that it was only seven pages long. Now our contracts are hundreds of pages long.” She also was the custodian of original drawings by campus architect John Galen Howard.

LeDuff is a repository of all kinds of historical information. She refers to herself as a “griot,” which, she says, is an African village historian and storyteller. “I’m the one people come to find out how things were done in the past,” she says. “People don’t have to look in a book. They can just ask me.”

Serving as chair of the Chancellor’s Staff Advisory Committee and as a monitor during the 1999 ethnic studies protests on campus are among the highlights of LeDuff’s career. She also cherishes the supportive work environment her boss, Vice Chancellor Ed Denton, has created in Capital Projects.

However, LeDuff is not permitted to speak of retirement in front of her colleagues, who’ve jokingly said that she’s allowed to leave the university “only on pain of death.”

“Even if I did retire, I’d try to stay involved with Berkeley in some way,” she says. “I love what we do.”

Joyce Burks
Graduate School of Education

Joyce Burks is also a big fan of what the campus does — in particular, the lectures on arcane and exotic subjects that she has the opportunity to attend.

“I’m an academic groupie,” says Burks. “I treasure the chance to hear high-level talks on fascinating topics.”

Over the years, she’s learned about music, light metal alloys, language evolution, food-resource development, the history of chocolate, and numerous other subjects. “I appreciate the way that faculty deliver the information,” she says. “They presume an intelligent but ignorant audience and infect you with their enthusiasm.”

Another thing Burks likes about the campus: No matter what question she might have, someone here can most likely answer it.

“I was once staring at the T-rex skeleton in the Valley Life Sciences Building and was curious about a particular bone,” she recalls. “I asked a man who was passing by about it. He told me he wasn’t a nonvertebrate paleontologist, then proceeded to explain that the bone was probably used to aid side-to-side tail movement and wasn’t an oviduct, as I had thought.”

Burks was drawn to Berkeley from her home state of Texas because of the “freedom” that existed here, she says. She was enrolled in an MA program at Texas Tech University, in Lubbock, but she was stifled by the environment, feeling that she had an intellectual curiosity that was lacking in the cowboy and party atmosphere that prevailed on campus. “Coming to Berkeley was the reasonable thing to do,” she says of her arrival in the mid-1960s. “There were no assumptions here about how one should look or behave, no ‘old arguments’ to rehash.”

Despite Berkeley’s highly intellectual atmosphere, Burks has no qualms about referring to herself as a “secretary” (for the Graduate School of Education’s dean), even though the term has fallen out of favor.

“I set up his travel, manage his calendar, format his drafts, help him meet deadlines, and keep secrets. That’s pure secretary stuff,” she explains with a laugh. “That’s what I am.”


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