What you haven't heard about Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little
By: Hannah Barling | @hannahova2me
You know her as Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, the woman who oversees the University of Kansas and its entirety. But have you ever wondered what a typical day in the life of our 17th chancellor is like, besides the dozens of meetings and events she attends?
Each morning she wakes up between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m., showers, eats breakfast and gets dressed. She takes her coffee black with sugar or sweetener, but, “If I’m feeling very expensive, I’ll put cream in it,” Gray-Little said.
She reads the newspaper — print edition, not online — and drives to her parking spot behind Strong Hall by 8 a.m. She walks from her big white house on campus only when she doesn’t have to go anywhere else that day, which usually isn’t the case.
After morning business meetings, it’s lunchtime. Soup is usually her lunch of choice — the Italian wedding and Thai chicken soup are her two favorites, but the tomato soup is something Gray-Little isn’t too fond of. “If they have that, I don’t have soup,” Gray-Little said.
Her arrival at the University
Like many little girls, she wanted to be a dancer when she was younger. By the time she reached high school, she didn’t have a particular plan or specific area she wanted to go into.
“I just wanted to go to college,” Gray-Little said.
The chancellor received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Marywood College in Scranton, Pa. She then went on to earn a Ph.D in psychology from St. Louis University.
After working 38 years at the University of North Carolina, Gray-Little interviewed for the position of Chancellor of the University in 2009. She didn’t even get the chance to see the Lawrence campus until she was in her final interview and being offered the position.
“I was being interviewed in Topeka and my husband was there and I said, ‘Let’s go and look at the campus,’” Gray-Little said reminiscently with a smile.
Gray-Little and her husband only made it as far as the visitor’s center on Bob Billings Parkway and Iowa Street when she received a phone call from the search committee, offering her the job. They talked on the phone for about 15 to 20 minutes, and told her she had to come back to Topeka immediately for a press conference. So they turned around and drove right back.
“I didn’t get to see the campus until later that day, and I was so happy it was gorgeous,” Gray-Little said.
Her favorite time of year on campus is a tie between spring and fall. The way the streets are laid out, the hill the campus sits upon and the vibrant colors are reasons Gray-Little pridefully thinks campus is “just beautiful.”
A few of her favorite things
Owning between 20 and 30 blazers, Gray-Little is a very poised and put-together woman. She maintains a vegetable garden at home and tomatoes are her favorite vegetable to plant and eat. She is one of eight children, and celebrates the holidays eating and spending time with her family.
Italian sausage is her favorite type of pizza, although she doesn’t eat it often, and See’s Candies peanut brittle is her go-to guilty pleasure.
“If I have See’s peanut brittle, I’ll eat more than I should,” Gray-Little said.
Gray-Little said she has traveled all over the state, the region and the coasts for work, and doesn’t have a particular favorite getaway. But there is one vacation she tries to take each year.
“I like to go to the ocean at least once a year, and spend some days there,” Gray-Little said. “The Atlantic Ocean, some of the beaches on the outer banks of North Carolina.”
Chancellor Gray-Little also likes to sing. She listens to jazz, rock and roll, a little bit of broadway tunes and coffee-house music, but rock and roll is her favorite genre, which she sings along to in the car. However, even though she usually sings in the car, she’s not afraid to belt out a tune in front of others.
Retired faculty were given a surprise when they first met Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little. During a meeting in which they were celebrating some birthdays, Gray-Little got up and sang a birthday tune from a Saturday morning radio show she and her family used to sing.
“I got up and sang that song, and they were just flabbergasted,” Gray-Little said.
Being the Chancellor and being Bernadette
“It’s not a balance in a sense of ‘you have time to do this and you have time to do work’,” Gray-Little said when asked how she manages her time between being the chancellor and living a normal, everyday life.
Because of the way things are scheduled and the times of events, she said even if it is a fun activity it might also be work, so fun and work is a true mixture for the chancellor.
“The balance has to be in the perspective that you bring to work and the way in which you approach the work. More than in terms of the time,” Gray-Little said.
Gray-Little and her husband do a variety of things together, many of which connect to the University and its offerings. Home games, plays on campus and events at the Lied center are a few examples. She said there are more opportunities to do things here than in a bigger city because they’re all so close.
Being the chancellor isn’t a part-time gig. Even when she’s at home, Gray-Little still deals with University issues. However, she said there are many enjoyable aspects of being the chancellor.
“The ones that come to mind as most memorable are the ones in which we are celebrating, such as celebrating an achievement or a performance,” Gray-Little said in an email. “This includes events such as Commencement where we celebrate four or more years of work on the part of our students, as well as events honoring our faculty, students, or staff for outstanding accomplishments.”
“There is no typical ending time of the day,” Gray-Little said. She might leave at 5 p.m., and come back to an event at 5:30 p.m., then leave again at 9 p.m. She’s always going somewhere or moving around.
When she finally does reach home for the evening, Gray-Little changes her clothes, eats a light dinner and rarely turns on the television. In her free time, she usually chooses to read.
Gray-Little just finished reading the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for fiction novel “The Orphan Master’s Son” by Adam Johnson, and is currently reading “The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism” by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
The chancellor said her favorite part of the University is the sense of community it encompasses and the collective identity among the students, faculty, staff and alumni. You may only know her as “the chancellor”, but she is also Bernadette Gray-Little — the woman who likes to read, drinks coffee every morning, occasionally splurges on candy and loves her Jayhawks.
Photos by: George Mullinix/KANSAN