Rogers’ office staff describe life working with university president

The Ladies' of the President's office: Ruth Ann Ray, assistant to the president, and Cindy Ashlock, executive assistant to the president, with Rogers. Debbie Barrow is not pictured. Photo by Rachel Johnson

The Ladies’ of the President’s office: Ruth Ann Ray, assistant to the president, and Cindy Ashlock, executive assistant to the president, with Rogers. Debbie Barrow is not pictured. Photo by Rachel Johnson

Every week, the office of University President Jesse Rogers can be a busy place with university officials, donors and staff. But behind all of that, there are three women who work closely with Rogers on a day-to-day basis. They are the ones who truly see the president and know just how hard working, and relaxed, he really is.

Ruth Ann Ray, assistant to the president, has worked in the president’s office for eight years. She said one of the most challenging parts of working in the office is greeting people with the right attitude that comes to the door.

“Dr. Rogers comes in every day and he is ready to work,” Ray said. “I have never seen a man work more hours. He’s here every day and when he is ready to work, you’re ready to work for him.”

Debbie Barrow, director of Board and Government Relations, has worked in the president’s office for 35 years. Over the years, she has worked with four presidents, but she said her relationship with Rogers has grown leaps and bounds over the years and it’s something that keeps the university moving forward.

“Each president that I’ve worked for has different needs and different things that they thought were important, so I think that we found a nice balance with our office staff to help make it go smoothly. We have a very strong team, and we work well together.”

Barrow met Rogers when she was 22 years old and was a student worker in the president’s office when he was the vice president of academic affairs.

“He has been in the big events in my life. He was there when I got married,” Barrow said. “He’s seen me pregnant, watched my daughter grow up and I feel like he is a part of my family and has been a really good part.”

As part of her job, Barrow and Rogers regularly travel to Austin to meet with Texas legislators to discuss matters of higher education. In these political exchanges, she said, she has been along with Rogers, fighting for college funding and other issues that affect college campus statewide. According to Barrow, those trips over the years have been an important part of keeping MSU funded and profitable.

Rogers’ strong track record of getting things done is something his executive secretary Cindy Ashlock agrees with.

“During his presidency, he has raised roughly over $90 million in donation funds,” Ashlock said. “I can’t raise $90 much less $90 million. That’s just incredible.”

As his executive secretary, Ashlock deals one-on-one with the president on his appointments, travel arrangements, and sometimes serves at his comic relief.

“I met him when I first started here and I thought he was such a dork and so funny and fun to work with on that level,” Ashlock said. “He’s a lot of fun to work for. He’s a scientist by training so you think of a pencil-holder, geek type, but he spreads outside of that. It’s been a fun 14 years.”

Debbie Barrow

Debbie Barrow, director of board and government relations

While fun may not be the first thing that comes to mind when describing the president’s office, these three women have proven the contrary.

“I’m the comic relief, Ruth is mother perfect, and Debbie is Debbie do-right,” Ashlock said. “Dr. Rogers is like the dad.”

Through the president’s administrative deadlines and constant coming and going from his office at a moment’s notice, Ashlock still finds that he creates a comfortable atmosphere for his staff.

“He has the best sense of humor. Sometimes during the day it will be stressful, and we will look up funny videos. One time, he was leaning over laughing from a video we saw online.”

“We found a nice balance with our office staff to help make it go smoothly.” Debbie Barrow

Approximately six years ago Ashlock mentioned a prank she believes stands as one of the most humorous days in their professional relationship.

“That day I hid under his desk,” Ashlock said. “When he came in I pranked him by grabbing his legs as he came over. He jumped out of his skin, and possibly said a few choice words in the process.”

Ashlock had succeeded in her prank on Rogers, though it had unintended consequences for her as well.

“It didn’t go off like it had in my head,” Ashlock said. “I actually had trouble getting out from under the desk.”

Apart from his comical relief in the office, Ray added he also brings a gentlemanly nature to the office.

“This office used to be configured differently,” said Ray, recalling a time when a desk was stationed closer to the entrance. “I took off walking and fell over a chair flat on my face. Dr. Rogers tried to help me back up and I yelled ‘don’t touch me’ and he said ‘OK’.”

While all three women, Ray, Ashlock and Barrow, have worked with the president for many years, Barrow has worked with him the longest.

“He has always been a real person to me, I guess because I’ve always known him that way. He was there when I got married, and has been around forever,” Barrow said.

Since becoming director of board and government relations, the daily interaction between Rogers and Barrow has changed in terms of content.

“In the early days we had constant communication,” Barrow said. “Now we sit down either every day or every other day and talk about the board of relations and policy. We all recognize we are here to do an important job, but we play hard too. Rogers is a great person to work for, and there’s a good balance between getting down to business and being able to laugh as well.”

Barrow was aware of Rogers’ unique sense of humor even before he was president.

“During his time as vice president, I had a birthday party that was tie-die themed,” said Barrow. “He walked in dressed as Elvis.”

Though there are times of relaxation like these in the office, Rogers is able to relate to his staff on varying levels and switch the focus to their obligations if need be.

“He has his down time occasionally,” said Barrow. “We always laugh about Saturday Night Live skits and even had a student worker that could do imitations of old cast members like Gilda Radner. He’s also able to talk with others about so many outside interests like sports and art. In some ways it reminds me of a renaissance man, though when it’s time for business he knows it.”

All three ladies said they believe the new president will give just as much devotion to the University and its staff just as Rogers did and say their team will remain strong even after Rogers is gone.

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