All of us know people we wish everyone knew. Juanita Mayberry tops such a list for Martha Jane (Daniel ’66) and me. Her death is a great sadness for us, but there is real solace in knowing that many, many Randolph-Macon Woman’s College students and college colleagues did know her. Still, there’s a compulsion to want everyone who has cared about R-MWC to know what a powerful role Juanita played in making the College tick.
For almost fifty years, Juanita was the indispensable major domo of the Admissions Office. As admissions officers came and went over the years, Juanita was the constant, the glue. She was the person with the history. She knew generations of students and was always able to provide information that helped to enhance our efforts at personalizing our contacts with prospective students, their school counselors, and alumnae. It was not unusual for a counselor in Mobile or Pittsburgh or Paducah or Waco to ask an R-MWC admissions representative visiting in those cities, “How’s Juanita?” Juanita’s name appeared in ink at the bottom of every single personally-typed letter of acknowledgement of recommendations and transcripts, and her voice was often the first they heard when they called the College. These counselors didn’t know Juanita personally, but they knew we were able to do our jobs better in the field because of what she was doing in the office.
Technology arrived first in the form of the IBM Selective typewriter, allowing us to draft standard letters and simply change a name. Juanita had skepticism about this newest approach to efficiency, and an amusing story relates to this. One day, a counselor from a school in West Virginia called expressly to speak to Juanita and asked bluntly, “What’s going on at Randy-Mac?” It seems that one of the counselor’s very weak students had received a letter of acceptance from our office, suggesting that the College must have fallen on hard times. Doing a quick check, Juanita ascertained that the file for this student, whom the Admissions Committee had unwaveringly denied, had ended up in a pile of “Accepts.” Juanita accepted full responsibility for the error (although it was not hers), and when she hung up she said, “This wouldn’t have happened if I could still type the letters individually.”
My stints as Director of Admissions at the College were separated by fourteen years, and when I returned to the Admissions Office in 1988 everything was technology-driven, as well it should have been then. However, remembering the appreciation candidates and their families had expressed previously for the personalization our staff had given each application, I wanted to resurrect some semblance of that effort through the decision letters. With real reluctance, I asked Juanita if she would be willing to insert a personal paragraph between the first and last standard ones, and she said with a grin, “As long as you don’t get too wordy.” Even as the number of applicants grew, Juanita personally typed that middle paragraph for everyone.
But exemplary efficiency was not Juanita’s only trademark. She was unfailingly kind and generous. One alumna has told me that Juanita supplied her with an allowance when her parents could not. Another said upon learning of Juanita’s death, “She was like a mother to me.” Who will ever know how many wedding and baby gifts Juanita sent to R-MWC graduates who just wanted her to share their joy….and she did just that with pride and genuine affection.
Just the name “Juanita” resonated among our envious counterparts throughout the world of college admissions. She was proud to be a part of this institution to which she was loyal beyond measure, however, she was especially proud to be Mrs. Richard O. Mayberry. Dickie was her love light, and together they had a good life, made richer by the hundreds of adopted daughters Juanita took under her expansive wings.
It was Juanita’s wish to have no service or obituary upon her death, and that wish was rightly honored. I admit to having a twinge of guilt, though, thinking this tribute may be in violation of what she wanted. I just had to take a stab at giving those who have ever loved this institution some idea of how vital Juanita Mayberry was to the lifeblood of R-MWC. If, in fact, this displeases her, I can only hope she’s enjoying a deserved rest and having nothing to do with admission into the great beyond.
Director of R-MWC Admissions 1970-74; 1988-93