Blue Devil of the Week: Setting the Stage for Visiting Luminaries

Mary Lindsley helps bring the Sanford School of Public Policy’s Distinguished Lecture Series to life

Mary Lindsley, Communications and Events Manager, Sanford School of Public Policy, plays a vital role in helping bring notable speakers to the school. Photo by Stephen Schramm.
Mary Lindsley, Communications and Events Manager, Sanford School of Public Policy, plays a vital role in helping bring notable speakers to the school. Photo by Stephen Schramm.

Name: Mary Lindsley

Position: Communications and Events Manager, Sanford School of Public Policy

Years at Duke: 10

What she does at Duke: Several times a year, the Sanford School of Public Policy brings in thought leaders and newsmakers for various distinguished lectures, providing the Duke community and beyond valuable opportunities to hear from those who drive the discussions that shape our world.

With high-profile speakers such as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and award-winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates often drawing several hundred attendees, the free public talks are major affairs. And it’s Mary Lindsley’s job to make sure that seats are filled and the events go smoothly.

Lindsley, who also manages a variety of public relations projects at the Sanford School, such as an e-newsletter and digital signage, is the person largely responsible for scheduling talks and working out logistics once Dean Judith Kelley has identified a person to invite.

In October, Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad came to speak at the Sanford School of Public Policy. Photo courtesy of the Sanford School of Public Policy.She’s also in charge of crafting promotional plans for events, using news releases, digital fliers and other resources to get the word out to segments of the community that would be interested in attending.

“If you ride the bus around campus, you’ll almost always see a poster for some Sanford event or another,” Lindsley said.

Adding to the potential degree of difficulty are varying timetables with which Lindsley pulls the events together. In some cases, she has a year to prepare. Or, like for the talk given by 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad, she might have as little as two weeks.

But Lindsley said helping expose Duke’s young minds to the people addressing society’s most pressing issues makes the pressure worth it.

“That’s the great part about working at the school of public policy, everyone is really tackling the big issues that we all want to solve, that we all need to solve,” Lindsley said.

What she loves about Duke: Lindsley loves her team and the larger storytelling community. She said that Duke has helped her get better at her job thanks to resources such as the brainstorming and networking hub that is the Duke Communicators Network and ProComm classes that are skill-share workshops for communicators.

She said Duke has also helped her grow as a person.

This year, she’s taking part in the Racial Equity Learning Arc, a program for Duke staff and faculty offered by the Duke Office of Civic Engagement aimed at deepening the dialogue about racial inequality and working for strategies for change.

Lindsley said that opportunities to grow help bring value to what she does each day. But so does the mission, the people, the students and the research coming out of the Sanford School.

“I love the work that we’re doing here,” Lindsley said. “That gives my work purpose.”

A special object in her workspace: Scattered around Lindsley’s workspace are photos and mementos from some of her multiple trips to India and surrounding countries. She has prayer flags from Nepal and a photo of her holding her son in front of the Golden Temple of Amritsar.

Her husband, who is from India, proposed to her in front of the Taj Mahal in 2009. The couple returned to India for their honeymoon and again with their two children.

“They remind me of what I’m here for,” Lindsley said of the items in her office. “I am grateful for family, for travel and for ongoing adventures.”

First ever job: Lindsley’s first job, which she got as a teenager, was putting together bouquets for a flower shop which closed before she got her first paycheck. But in the years that followed, Lindsley put together a diverse and quirky résumé.

Among the jobs she held were grocery cashier, pizza delivery driver and college newspaper photographer while at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She also taught English in Mexico, clerked at a seafood restaurant in Seattle and tossed pizzas in a mid-mountain lodge in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

“My commute to work that winter was a gondola and a snowboard,” Lindsley said.

Before settling down in North Carolina, she had what she called a “once-in-a-lifetime-if-you’re-lucky” job. She drove a supply van and provided logistical support for a couple hiking from Mexico to Canada along the 2,700-mile Pacific Crest Trail, which winds through California, Oregon and Washington.

The job allowed her to develop some of her organization and planning skills while also offering a chance to experience breathtaking parts of the country at an unhurried pace.

“That was amazing,” Lindsley said. “Dropping off hikers on the trail was a step up from dropping off pizzas to college dorms.”

Best advice received: At one point, early in adulthood, Lindsley was enjoying her string of offbeat jobs in neat places while also harboring a degree of concern that others her age were appearing to accomplish more.

But a friend of her parents provided a different way to look at it.

“You will have this for the rest of your life,” they said, referring to the priceless experiences she was gaining. “Don’t worry about what your peers are doing.”

Mary Lindsley's wedding featured a traditional dance-filled party, in the Blue Parlor in the East Duke building. Photo courtesy of Mary Lindsley.Something most people don’t know about her: Lindsley married her husband, Montek Singh, in a three-day Indian wedding ceremony in Durham and Chapel Hill. As part of the event, the couple’s families gathered for a Sangeet, or traditional music-filled party, in the Blue Parlor in the East Duke building. The highlight of the party was when the couple performed, a traditional Indian dance.

“The reason we were able to do this Bhangra dance in front of everybody was because we’d practiced at a Wilson Recreation Center group fitness class,” Lindsley said. “They had a weekly Bollywood dance class the spring before we were married and we both practiced routines that we performed at our wedding.”

Is there a colleague at Duke who has an intriguing job or goes above and beyond to make a difference? Nominate that person for Blue Devil of the Week.