ACC has great power. I want to take a moment of personal privilege and talk about the power of ACC to affect one person: Rhonda Little.
Rhonda passed away on Sunday, June 14. She started working at ACC in January 2013 and she was immediately hooked. Her professional life had been in the legal field, working for large law firms. Switching from that world to a community college was, I expect, rather like going down the rabbit hole with Alice. But, while she took a considerable pay cut, and didn’t know anything about who and what we are, she dived in with her spirit of “let me help” and “I will learn”.
I hired Rhonda to be an administrative assistant in my office when I was Dean of Social & Behavioral Sciences. She supported not only the work of my office in tandem with Mandy Cummings, but also the work of the Geographic Information Systems Department. Have you ever thought about what it might be like to plunge into an entirely different professional environment where you don’t know the norms or expectations or protocols? In Rhonda’s case, everything was different. The expectation of professional dress was different (read: much more casual). The expectation of supervisory authority was different (read: don’t tell faculty what to do). The rhythms of the job were tied to the rhythms of semesters. The holidays – oh, the holidays! Outside of education, most folks don’t get ten days at Christmas, a week in March, two days at Thanksgiving – plus accruing vacation leave.
Rhonda loved ACC from the beginning. She loved the power of our mission. She loved helping students. She loved learning – and we are, after all, a learning institution. She took advantage of multiple professional development opportunities and accrued scores of hours of PD. She served as an officer in the Classified Employees Association. She applied for the Leadership Academy but was, unfortunately, unable to participate due to her challenging health issues. She loved helping me organize events (the annual SBS convocation, two conferences last year). She loved taking notes at my meetings, or purchasing “swag” for the faculty coordinators to give to students at AoS information sessions, or figuring out some new process or procedure or protocol. She loved everything about her job. And that’s because she loved what ACC is, who we are, and how we can save the world, one student at a time.
Since the announcement of her passing, I’ve received lots of emails of condolence. One friend here described Rhonda as “fiercely protective of me”. She was indeed that. She was my work partner, my defender against all comers, and my dear friend. She never thought I was wrong (bless her!), and she would do anything I asked or needed. She thought I needed a caretaker, and she appointed herself to that role. The emails I’ve received mention laughing with Rhonda, having good conversations with Rhonda, and learning from Rhonda. She has been described as wonderfully kind, cheerful, helpful, patient, sweet. She was born to be an executive assistant and she did it well. And we were a great team.
Did she get frustrated with ACC’s processes on occasion? Yes. Did she get irritated when people wouldn’t return phone calls? Yes. Was she sometimes stubborn and overly-critical? Yes. Just as ACC is imperfect, Rhonda was imperfect. But ACC also provided her with the security of extended leave thanks in part to the generosity of colleagues who donate to the sick leave pool each year. And ACC provided her with benefits that mattered in the midst of extended health challenges. And most especially, ACC provided her with a caring community – and gave her reason to get better. When she was away from work with her illness, her goal was always – always – to return to work. That kept her going when life was a struggle. She was so captivated by our mission and impact, and by our people, and by our students’ stories, and by the commitment of our senior leadership, and by her daily interactions with friends on the 6th floor of HBC. She loved coming to work and making a difference.
ACC has great power. In this instance, its power helped Rhonda fight the cancer beast for five and a half years. She is irreplaceable. I will miss her sparkle, and her quick wit, and her ability to be my sounding board, and her ever-ready willingness to support me and defend me. But what I will miss most is her belief in the power of Austin Community College.