Mary Lou Smith-she keeps us swimming

When you need to know about the money in one of your accounts, where to get your departmental vehicle serviced or how to order furniture, Mary Lou Smith is the person to ask. She has been the rock solid administrative assistant who helps squeeze so much out of our taxpayer dollars that she is more like a magician. Mary Lou takes great care in getting the job done and getting it done right. She cares about every person who needs help and treats all with great care and respect. Although the job at times was more than one person should handle she got everything accomplished in an extraordinarily competent way. Today she has more help to do the accounting and administrative work for the department but for about 25 years she took a lot of work home with her to keep the rest of us swimming.

Mary Lou began her time at Auburn in 1977 after resigning her bookkeeping job at Flowers Bakery in Opelika. She began in Fisheries in a support role as a bookkeeper and was promoted through the system to Administrative Assistant. When I asked her what makes our department special she was quick to answer. She said, “Faculty make our department because of their expertise and genuine love for what they are doing. For the most part they are high achievers…our department doesn’t tolerate low achievers.” She adds that our staff and administrative professionals have the same values. “It really rubs off when you work in an environment with faculty who make it work, who are content with their careers and who like to be recognized for their hard work.”

mlsI asked Mary Lou about the greatest changes she has seen during her time at Auburn. She said that she “has seen our international efforts decline over the years although we are still active but not in the same way. From this change came faculty who learned how to reinvent themselves and adapt. Another big change has been the increase in our saltwater/Gulf of Mexico efforts. And something that has helped me and all of us has been tightening up the management of our contracts and grants. We now manage our money across the university better than at any time in the past. This makes me very comfortable with the way we spend our public and private dollars.”

No doubt, Mary Lou should have a perspective on the greatest need in the department and she was asked this question. Without hesitation, she says that we need a new building as soon as possible. “Swingle Hall is getting more outdated day by day. We need modern labs and classrooms. I wish that the university had a programmatic way to deal with the need to replace and upgrade buildings, a system that really worked.”

Mary Lou says that she is eventually going to retire. “I feel great about the contribution I have made to a worthwhile program and have enjoyed my time in Fisheries. Also, it is quite remarkable that Auburn University is 150 years old, is still thriving, is still going strong and is still contributing." When asked for a quote about Mary Lou Smith from Department Head, David Rouse, he said, “Mary Lou has done a fantastic job of training department heads over the years and when I began in 2002, the job was almost overwhelming because of the vast number of duties, the fast pace and complexity resulting from so many locations that we operate from. But, Mary Lou’s patience, experience and willingness to coach me in the financial/policies area was invaluable for making the transition and keeping our department at the forefront.”

Message from Mary Lou to all Fisheries employees…”Don’t take for granted the benefits at Auburn that are not included in your paycheck….i.e. annual and holiday leave”.

In honor of Mary Lou Smith, Dr. Steve Szdlemayer took the initiative to have his new research vessel , a 44-foot fiberglass work boat rigged for the Gulf, the RV Mary Lou, named in honor of her. Steve says that she deserved this small recognition for her dedication and service to the faculty, staff, students and everyone who works so hard in our department”.

Congratulations Mary Lou Smith!!!!

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