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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


A UA presidential staple

Kevin Brost
Kevin Brost / Arizona Daily Wildcat Linda Stapleton, assistant to the University of Arizona President for the past 19 years, discusses her career and accomplishments as she plans to retire in the Administration Building on October 24, 2011.

Linda Stapleton bustles around the seventh floor of the Administration building, making sure UA President Eugene Sander finishes his afternoon meeting in time to greet his 3 p.m. appointment.

Stapleton, executive assistant to the president, has been the right-hand woman of the men who ran the university for 19 years. And after aiding three presidents, an interim president and a president-designate, she’s retiring next month.

The UA president can work from 7:30 in the morning to 5:30 at night meeting with campus and community leaders, attending luncheons and giving presentations. Stapleton is in charge of scheduling their meetings and keeping the presidents on track and on time.

“I always said there were two women who controlled my life,” said former President Robert Shelton, who worked with Stapleton from 2006 until this year. “One was my wife — the other was Linda Stapleton.”

Stapleton came to the UA in 1981 after her youngest child started kindergarten. She wanted to volunteer a few hours a week, and instead found a full-time job.

She worked in several positions before becoming the assistant to the dean in the College of Humanities. In 1992, the executive assistant to the president position opened and Stapleton’s boss encouraged her to apply.

“I had imagined a list of people who would be great for the job across campus,” Stapleton said. “She said, ‘You owe it to yourself to put your name in the running.’ So I did.”

Stapleton got the job and said her scheduling experience and knowledge of Spanish from growing up in Mexico were helpful qualities. She started working for Manuel Pacheco, who was president from 1991 to 1997.

“It was really stressful,” said Stapleton about starting the position. “He was formal and quiet. I didn’t get great feedback from him because it wasn’t his style.”

Stapleton was an excellent assistant from the beginning, Pacheco said. Her efficiency, good judgment and ability to anticipate his needs made her the best executive assistant he ever had, he said.

“I had a reputation for being a perfectionist and a task-master, so I imagine she might have been nervous,” Pacheco said. “But from the first day she was right on target on how things needed to be done.”

Stapleton became more confident in the job as time went on and she gained knowledge of the university and its administration.

“Needless to say, she probably knows more about being president than I do,” said Sander, adding that he couldn’t do the job without her.

With each president, Stapleton has experienced the excitement that builds when famous visitors came to campus or when the UA held important sporting events. And she’s also witnessed the reactions to presidents whose plans anger members of the community.

Protesters overtook the Administration building in the early 2000s in reaction to the UA’s plans to put telescopes on Mount Graham. People camped out and slept on the floor, Stapleton said.

“We were stepping over people in sleeping bags on the way to work,” she said. “They took over the kitchen. I couldn’t get coffee comfortably.”

It’s the positive attitude that Stapleton brings to the office during these stressful times that some presidents valued most.

“As president, there’s an awful, unrelenting pressure that never goes away,” said former President Peter Likins, who worked with Stapleton for nine years. “It’s important to have a family at home and an office family where you feel loved and valued. Linda creates that environment.”

Stapleton becomes close with the presidents and stays in contact with them after they leave. She saw Pacheco at a football game last week and bumps into Likins at church.

“I consider all of them good friends,” said Stapleton, whose computer screensaver alternates between pictures of her grandchildren and the presidents she has worked with. “They’ve been so generous with me and taught me a lot.”

Stapleton, who turns 68 next week, will retire at the end of November. She said she’s looking forward to relaxing, traveling and spending time with her five grandchildren, who range in age from 18 months to 5 years old.

Sander will have a new executive assistant for the rest of his term. But finding someone with the knowledge, experience and spirit of Stapleton will be a challenge, he said.

“She’s just a great human being,” Sander said. “A real lady.”

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