Mother figure’

Alexander Pegg

Northwestern has more than 4,000 staff members and for 2004, Florence Sales is No. 1.

“On the very first day I was here at Northwestern,” says Jonathan Adler, a second-year graduate student in clinical psychology, “I walked into the main office in Swift and she said, ‘Hi, my name is Florence. I’ll be your mom while you’re here.’ And she really has been.”

Sales, the graduate admissions director for the psychology department, is NU’s 2004 Employee of the Year.

“I consider the graduate students my babies,” Sales says. “I’ve been in this department so long that I’ve developed this mother figure. I think (students) need to feel that there is somebody they can go to if there is a problem with their classes, getting around the campus — it just depends on what the student needs.”

Born in Asheville, N.C., Sales attended the University of Durham Business School in England before joining NU’s psychology department in the early 1970s.

“This has been my home ever since,” she says. “This is the place for me.”

Sales has been with NU’s psychology

department for 33 years, as a support staffer, undergraduate admissions coordinator and, since 1994, graduate admissions director.

When she was named Employee of the Year, Sales says she was surprised.

“You always dream of something like this happening, but yes, I was totally blown away,” Sales says. “To me, it means my hard work and dedication, showing kindness, has just paid off.”

Sales’ office is filled with stacks of paper and pictures of her husband, son and grandchildren as well as snapshots of her extended family — professors, students and their children.

“I keep in touch with some of my grad students and their kids,” Sales says. “In addition to being a mother (to students), I’m also a grandmother.”

Sales, with her warm smile, jocular nature and relaxed demeanor easily can be seen as a motherly figure. Sales attributes her caring manner to her own mother.

“It’s just my upbringing,” Sales says. “My mom has always said that even if it’s just a little thing you do for a person, it can make the biggest difference.”

Adler says Sales brings others spirits up with a warm, optimistic and helpful attitude.

“I’d say if there is any one thing that characterizes her, it’s the smile she has when you enter the office,” Adler says. “She has a million things to do and she manages to do it all and stay really upbeat.”

Psychology Prof. Michael Bailey, who is chairman of the department, says that although Sales isn’t quite so inviting with faculty, the

professors learn before long that though she scolds them, she really does care.

Bailey says Sales, with her dedication and supportive personality, deserves the award.

“I don’t know anybody that works harder than Florence,” Bailey says. “She provides the department with this attitude of community, humor, loyalty, fun and competence.”

Barbara O’Brian, who became the psychology department’s assistant chairwoman in June 2003, attributes her successful transition in part to Sales’ help.

“When I began over the summer, Florence was instrumental in my orientation,” O’Brian says. “Florence was the greatest source of support as I obviously had a lot of questions starting a new job. She had all the answers.”