Sandy Harris, part of the Financial Aid ‘family’, celebrates 50 years at the Law School

Sandy Harris, part of the Financial Aid 'family', celebrates 50 years at the Law School

During the time Sandy Harris has spent processing student financial aid packages at the University of Virginia School of Law, 10 US presidents have come and gone, along with six university presidents, eight university deans faculties of law and six deans of admission.

Only four people have overseen financial aid operations during Harris’ 50 years there, including his current boss, Jennifer Hulvey, the assistant dean for financial aid, education and planning. Harris has considered each of them part of his family, with all the loyalty that entails.

Harris is so indispensable to the office, Hulvey jokes, that he plans to beat Harris to retirement.

“Look, she’s already out of her game — she told me she’s thinking about retiring at 70, and I know exactly when that will be,” Hulvey said, gesturing toward Harris, who was sitting across from her.

“I’m giving you six months to train my replacement, because I don’t want to work without you,” Hulvey said. “Nothing would be done!”

Harris dismissed the praise with characteristic humility.

“Work is all I’ve ever known, and I’m a loyal person,” Harris said. “I started working at State Farm when I was a senior in high school, and if they had had a position open for me in what they trained me to do, that’s where I would be.”

Instead, he joined UVA Law’s typing pool on the Monday after his high school graduation in 1972 and moved to the financial aid office five years later. Back then, it was common for secretaries to take care of many personal tasks for their bosses.

When he began his career, the Law School was located in Clark Hall on the Main Grounds. He took shorthand dictation, typed software and personal correspondence on an electric typewriter, and literally cut and pasted—with scissors and rubber cement—corrections to classroom materials.

Harris, second from left, pictured in 1974 with fellow secretaries Diane Moss, Gail Branch, Peggy Marshall, Debbie Dodson, Gloria Kelarakis, Kathy Burton, Madeline Branch and Virginia Trenka. Photo courtesy of The Barrister/UVA Law Archives

Five years later, Harris joined the admissions and financial aid team. He still tears up every time he talks about his first financial aid boss, Jerry Stokes.

“He and I had a wonderful, close relationship — I trusted him, he trusted me,” Harris said. “I’m probably 15 years younger than him, but it was almost like a father-daughter relationship.”

Stokes’ trust in Sandy extended outside the office. When he was weakened by a serious illness, she helped him buy groceries and Christmas presents for his family. When he was on recruiting trips, she also ran the office in his absence, continuing to match students with available loans and scholarships, answering all correspondence, and even providing the office’s annual report to the College Foundation. right

“There are other people who would have come into a situation like this and said, ‘Well, the boss is out,’ and things would have piled up,” Hulvey said. “Sandy doesn’t let anything build up. One of her points of pride is that when she leaves here in the evening, even if we’ve been drinking from a fire hose all day, the help box finance is completely empty.”

Harris has remained the force that keeps the wheels turning throughout the year, first by showing Hulvey how things are done, and now by being a silent taskmaster who keeps the office’s work cycle and deadlines in the head

If anything, the familiar nature of the office has only increased over the years, thanks in part to Harris’ anchoring presence.

“We’re a family, we take care of each other,” said his partner, Helen Dugger. “When one person suffers, we all suffer, just as when one has something to celebrate, we all celebrate.”

The evidence is right there on Harris’ walls. Her tidy office includes pictures of both of her families: photos and Christmas cards of her fellow financial aid aides are displayed alongside photos of her parents, son and family. (She also hung up her 2013 Distinguished Service Award from the UVA Alumni Association, when she was recognized for more than 40 years of service.)

While her parents were alive, Harris had a Saturday breakfast date with them at TipTop or Hardees, and she would shop with her mother at Fashion Square Mall while her father waited in the car.

Dugger is now eating out and shopping with Harris, whose best friend (Harris’ ex-husband) died of COVID-19 in November. “We’ll spend an hour and a half looking at nail polish, if that’s what she wants to do,” Dugger said. “It’s not my thing, but that’s what families do.”

Hulvey’s own father, Floyd, died last month. As he has for 45 years before that, Harris made sure financial aid applicants didn’t feel a disruption in Hulvey’s absence.

When Harris takes a lunch break, she’s shopping on Barracks Road or sitting on a bench along Massie Road, “watching the students come and go,” she said.

For 50 years, she has seen more than 15,000 students pass through her at that bank or through her office. Some have become well-known judges and politicians, and others, famous authors. (There have been too many high-profile speakers and legal clients to remember, but she remembers running into Muhammad Ali, who spoke at the Law School in 1988, long before his body was hampered by Parkinson’s.)

Numerous Law School faculty and staff first met Harris as students, including Jim Ryan ’92, John C. Jeffries Jr. ’73, Leslie Kendrick ’06 and Jason Wu Trujillo ’01.

Harris worked closely with Trujillo when he became head of admissions. He has watched his children grow, and in 2009, Trujillo asked Harris to recommend the next dean of financial aid.

She chose Hulvey.

“I started in October and I said, ‘Sandy, it’s October, what am I supposed to do in October?'” Hulvey said. “That first year I was here, we wouldn’t have been able to stay afloat if Sandy hadn’t been quietly in the background doing all these things while he was coaching his new principal on how to do his job. That is the value that Sandy brings to this office today and that he brought to Jerry Stokes 45 years ago.”


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About the Author: Chaz Cutler

My name is Chasity. I love to follow the stock market and financial news!