1999 - Patricia de Castries
still remember when the restructuring that created the language center
resulted in the layoffs of staff, including Patricia de Castries.
"She was a middle-aged woman with no job,"
recalled German Studies Professor Elizabeth B. Bernhardt, director of
the Stanford Language Center. "Everyone sort of looked the other
way -- they didn't know what to say to her.
"Patricia was incredibly pleasant, though,
to everyone and held her head high."
It would be three months before de Castries found
employment again -- and it was back at the language center, as data
manager and assistant director. Bernhardt's initial reaction was "not
to want to face her."
But de Castries has been thriving at that position
for two years. "She has virtually single-handedly made the operation
work and made the language center the success that it is," Bernhardt
De Castries, who arrived at the central campus
in 1987 with $80 to her name, previously administered the Stanford-in-Paris
program 15 years ago and was an accountant for the program in the 1970s.
Here, she was a language program secretary for about 10 years and served
as a computer specialist for the languages program.
But all along, she was gaining renown for her
customer service abilities.
Among the more than 30 nominations sent on her
behalf for the Amy J. Blue Award, were testimonials about her housing
students in her Mountain View home following the Loma Prieta earthquake;
running errands and securing equipment for a disabled student; making
"house calls" on evenings and weekends to the homes of faculty
when their computer systems crashed; and pulling all-nighters (and still
showing up at her desk by 7:10 a.m. the following day) to help students
format a dissertation.
E. Gary Grundy III of the Stanford Class of 1998
referred to de Castries as "Maman," French for "mom."
"With both her fiery cigarette and Franco-Anglo
temperament, Patricia de Castries proves she is no ordinary cog,"
A divorced mother of two grown sons who live in
Europe, de Castries, 59, directs most of her energies to her job. The
idea of scaling back is not an option for her. "No way. I love
being here. I love my students," she says.
De Castries must sign the form for 1,700 freshmen
indicating they've completed one year of a university-level foreign
language. Pupils (and anxious parents) seek her counsel often.
She rarely takes more than a couple of days off,
puts in 10-hour shifts and never takes a lunch break. "I got out
of that habit," she said.
In her tidy, light-filled office that overlooks
sun-dappled expanses of the quad, de Castries relies on gifts from around
the world as decorations. Students and faculty on travels have brought
her a metal Hebrew hand, a gaily painted bus from Guatemala, a Korean
wedding couple and other souvenirs.
A native of Paris who is half-Irish, de Castries
speaks French and English and can understand Spanish. She has never
met her 4-year-old grandson, Alexandre, who lives in Paris, but she
has seen him on the World Wide Web.
A fan of Arthurian literature and medieval studies,
de Castries hopes to use the Amy J. Blue cash award to visit Stonehenge,
the prehistoric stone monuments in Salisbury Plain, England.