Blue Devil of the Week: The Devil's in the Details

Lisa Dilts plans events for the Duke Alumni Association

Lisa K. Dilts keeps a collection of gemstones on her desk.
Lisa K. Dilts keeps a collection of gemstones on her desk.

Name: Lisa K. Dilts

Title: Senior Director of Reunions and Special Events for the Duke Alumni Association

Time at Duke: 28 years, 26 of them in her current position.

What she does at Duke: Dilts plans Duke Alumni events, from intimate dinners to events for thousands, or as Dilts puts it, “I produce experiences for people. Producing events is very much like producing a play.” During a typical day, Dilts and her four-person team hammer out details for alumni events at Duke and around the country, mapping out everything from location to menus to lighting. Among other events, they’ve been hard at work organizing activities around the country to introduce President Vincent E. Price to Duke alumni.

What she loves about Duke: Duke is a “family affair” for Dilts, a Durham native. Her father graduated from Duke in 1952 with a bachelor’s degree in English. Dilts followed, receiving a bachelor’s in political science from Duke in 1983. How did a political science major end up planning menus and music? Dilts’ event-planning path started with a pastry chef job she took during her last two years in college. Baking became a “blinding passion” that Dilts translated into a two-year Duke Catering job after graduation. The political science degree helped because, she said, “everything is fraught with politics, especially the restaurant business.”

Memorable day at work: An event in Atlanta six years ago during which former President Jimmy Carter spoke to a crowd of Duke alumni. Dilts called Carter “warm, engaging and very punctual.” She said generations of alumni attended the event, reminding her of Duke’s deep roots and impact around the country.

Memorable object in her workplace: Dilts keeps a collection of gemstones on her desk, smooth spheres of amethyst, jade and other minerals that she often cradles in the palm of her hand when she feels stressed. She’s been fascinated by minerals since childhood. “It’s amazing that the Earth creates such beautiful things,” she said.

First ever job: Dilts was a sous chef at a now-defunct French restaurant in Chapel Hill. When the chef asked her in heavily accented English if she was “good with hot crepes,” she answered enthusiastically that she performed “very well with hot crabs,” and could crack and clean one perfectly.

Best advice she’s ever received: “To thine own self be true,” which she received from her grandfather. She applies this logic to her professional life. Even large, formal events need to feel organic and comfortable, Dilts said. No one has fun when they feel too restrained.

Tips for planning an event: “The devil’s in the details,” Dilts said. Event planning requires calmness in the face of pressure and several Plan Bs. “Plan A rarely ever happens,” Dilts said.

Something people might not know about her: Dilts is an introvert. She loves the behind-the-scenes side of planning events, but the social, in-front-of-the-scenes part of it can leave her feeling drained. She recoups during “silent retreats,” spending a few days of quiet contemplation in spots like a Connecticut monastery she recently visited.

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