August 1, 1999
Barbara Mitchell, administrative secretary in the Office of University Publications, came to work at Tulane 30 years ago primarily to provide a college education for her children. Along the way, she learned quite a bit herself. She learned how to keep her composure despite being the only African-American guest at a 1968 Tulane University Women's Association tea at the president's house.
She discovered that she had a knack for rendering fair decisions when she served on the grievance committee for Tulane's Minority Action Group, a staff organization that addressed minority concerns on campus. And she found out that she had the capacity to grow from a shy clerk-typist to one of the most well-known and outgoing secretaries on the uptown campus.
On Aug. 18, Mitchell will celebrate her 30th anniversary at Tulane in customary style--at a home-cooked, lunch- time feast for her office colleagues. Her 23-year-old daughter, Ceatrice (N '95), a Tulane fixture herself since birth, will help out with the cooking. Mitchell's husband since 1990, Herbert, will also join in the festivities.
"I'm just happy to have made it to 30 years," says Mitchell, who has survived the death of a husband, two bouts of cancer and other health problems over her tenure. "I want to do for the people who have stood by me all these years."
Mitchell might never have started at Tulane if it weren't for Betty Goldstein's predilection for a certain type of hosiery at Godchaux's department store. Goldstein, the office manager in the office of the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (Tulane College), entrusted only one clerk to order and deliver her favorite stockings--a polite and well-spoken 28-year-old named Barbara Riddle.
When she asked the clerk to join the dean's office staff, Mitchell jumped at the chance to provide a free college education for her two boys, Luke and John, through the staff tuition waiver. She soon learned that Tulane had more to offer her than free tuition for her children. Joseph Gordon, dean of Arts and Sciences from 1964 to 1984, became a close friend and promoted Mitchell from clerk-typist to receptionist to secretary in his office. In 1978, Mitchell transferred to the Office of University Relations.
"She's one of the most intelligent women I've worked with," Gordon says. "She is full of life and is a tremendously talented person." Mitchell was never satisfied with doing one thing, Gordon says. "She took on other side projects in her spare time like repairing televisions and even bricklaying."
While in the dean's office, her keen eye for detail came in handy. When a student joined the 1970s streaking fad and ran naked through the dean's office with a bag on his head, Mitchell accurately identified "Rusty," a popular auburn-haired football player. He didn't get in trouble, but Mitchell made sure he was adequately embarrassed when he stopped by the office the next day fully clothed.
At other times, students pulled the wool over her eyes. A friendly student returning home for the summer presented Mitchell with a plant he had lovingly cultivated throughout the school year. She proudly displayed the unusual plant on her desk until an assistant dean informed her it was cannabis. She also recalls shushing a skinny young student who blew a plaintive tune on a conch shell while sitting in the dean's office reception area.
How was she to know that Quint Davis would take his love of music to great heights as the founder of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival? All three of her children were students at Tulane. Both of Barbara's sons attended the College of Arts and Sciences but transferred to other schools. Ceatrice, however, had her heart set on a Tulane education from an early age and graduated in three years with an undergraduate degree in cell and molecular biology.
"Ceatrice had been around Tulane since she was a baby," Mitchell says. Her good looks also made Ceatrice an oft-used model for photos in Tulane publications. She appeared in several brochures and magazines during her years as an undergraduate.
Carol Schlueter, director of university publications, has worked with Mitchell for more than six years. She says Mitchell has an in-depth knowledge of the university and is indispensable to the publications office.
"Barb loves Tulane and is fiercely loyal to the university," Schlueter says.
"Barb is good to have around an office because she can get that smile in her voice," says Diana Pinckley, former head of university relations who worked with Mitchell for 17 years. "She cares about people and she cares about the university. Those are the kinds of folks who make a community special. "And she's one of the best cooks I've ever seen," adds Pinckley. "I learned to cook New Orleans from her."
Mitchell's culinary abilities are legendary throughout the campus. "The lagniappe is that Barb's a fantastic cook," agrees Schlueter. "She has a recipe for everything and that means that the publications staff gets to enjoy dishes like her fresh-baked scones, angel food cake with whipped cream and fresh strawberries and her fabulous gumbo. " It's too bad not everyone can go to the party.
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