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Every day was special’

Jenn Metz | Wednesday, March 31, 2010

In the summer of 1980, Shirley Grauel turned down a job working in a basement.

A mother with young children, she called the University regarding an ad for an administrative secretary position. When the University called back about a new, nine-month job working with the student-run campus newspaper, she knew it was perfect.

“And here I am now, 30 years later, working in a basement of a building,” she said on her second-to-last day as The Observer office manager.

Known for her hugs, her candy bowl and her daily line-up of daytime television, Shirley has been a constant presence at The Observer, and staffers over the years have come to know her as their second mother.

“I love interacting with everybody every day. They stay the same age, but I keep getting older, but I never felt the gap,” she said. “I respected the students, and it just worked out so well.”

Shirley’s time at The Observer has not only shaped her life, but her family’s. Her daughter, Jill O’Hara, said her earliest memories of her mom are of her working at The Observer.

When she was very young, Shirley would bring her to work in the LaFortune offices when she was too sick for school and she would watch “The Price is Right” with the students working.

“It took me a long time to understand what my mom meant when I’d hear her tell people that she could ‘sell her job because it’s so great,” Jill said.

As a student at Notre Dame in the 1990s, Jill said she was touched by how much her mother was loved on campus.

“When students who I didn’t even know would approach me and tell me how wonderful she is … I would smile and agree with them, and then wonder if it was odd that my mom was more popular on campus than I was,” she said.

Jill said Shirley’s love for her job and for the students who work at The Observer “is genuine and deep.”

“I don’t think she realizes the hearts she’s touched over the years … but I do. She is 100 percent the person she appears to be: loving, committed, loyal, nurturing,” she said. “I am incredibly proud that this mom to so many actually is my mom.”

Though to many, 30 years in one position might seem like an eternity, it didn’t feel that way to Shirley.

“Every day was special,” she said. “Where else would you get hugs everyday, and students walking up to say ‘I love you?’ I could have a bad day, but I don’t ever leave here in a bad mood.”

During her time at The Observer, Shirley has collected many memories and stories to share about the students she worked with — her second family. She recalled one staffer even calling her from the recovery room after delivering her first baby.

“The weddings I’ve been invited to, the e-mails I get that they’re having tailgates or the notes that are left on my desk every Saturday during the football season … I feel like I can go anywhere and I can find one of the former people,” she said.

After about 10 years on the job, Shirley realized she had a lucky feeling.

“I realized not once had I gotten up in the morning and said, ‘Oh man, I’ve got to go to work.’ It was always, ‘I get to go to work,'” she said. “I wish everyone could experience that.”

Observer alumni will reunite the weekend of the Blue-Gold game for a retirement party for Shirley, an event she is very excited about.

“I can’t wait to see everyone,” she said.

Preparing to return to campus for the reunion party, Observer alumni shared memories of Shirley.

Bruce Oakley, Class of 1980, returned to campus looking for a job after graduation and started working with Shirley at The Observer after serving as a copy editor his senior year.
He’ll be coming back again for the party, and told stories of those early years: installing typesetting machines, listening to Blondie, babysitting for Shirley’s children.

“Shirley proudly shared her life with us,” he said. “She has strength enough for a family that’s been growing for 30 years.

“My message to Shirley: ‘Mom, the kids are all right. And we’re coming home.'”

Though it hasn’t always been smooth sailing in The Observer office, the staff was always able to rely on Shirley, said John Lucas, a member of the Class of 1996 who served as Editor-in-Chief from 1995-96.

“Shirley always was a tremendous, steadying force: calm, fun and kind. She was in the eye of the hurricane, with the chaos that is The Observer swirling all around her,” he said.

The current staff, including Editor-in-Chief Matt Gamber, isn’t quite ready to Shirley go.

“I’ve been incredibly blessed to have known Shirley for the past three years, and I can’t thank her enough for the countless smiles and hugs that have brightened long nights and early mornings in the office,” Gamber said. “It will be a challenge to move forward without her, both from a personal and a professional standpoint, but on behalf of the entire staff, Shirley, I wish you nothing but the best as you enjoy your retirement. We will miss you.”

Now that her time at The Observer has come to a close, Shirley said she is “going to become a traveler and a full-time grandma.”

Shirley has plans for an Alaskan cruise this June with her husband Craig, also retired, and the Grauels are renting a condo in Florida for four weeks next spring.

“If Craig wasn’t at home, I probably wouldn’t be retired … but things happen for a reason, and it’s time,” she said. “Thirty years … that’s enough.”