After 43 years of service, Diana Cable-Whitworth is retiring from the Brian Lamb School of Communication.
Cable-Whitworth, whose last day will be June 29, began working for Purdue’s communication department in 1969 after high school graduation and has served in a variety of positions, including graduate secretary, secretary to the department head, administrative assistant to the department head, administrative assistant to the faculty and, most recently, schedule deputy.
“I’ve done everything but be department head!” Cable-Whitworth said. “I was fortunate enough to move up. I wouldn’t have liked working at any other place.”
Professor Ralph Webb hired Cable-Whitworth originally to be the graduate secretary when he was director of graduate studies.
“Diana was and is a very sensitive person,” Webb said. “She does not toot her own horn much. She is honest, forthright, eager, polite, kind, willing; all of those things are important to me. She was realistic and more likely to cooperate with me to get the job done.”
Webb said the director of graduate studies position was very time-consuming in the late 1960s because they processed at least 300 applications each year by hand, including reading application inquiries, writing personal letters to applicants, creating files, and responding to applicant questions.
“You had to stay ahead of the information exchange,” he said. “That’s when I knew I made a good decision hiring Diana. She was careful and made very few errors. We got along well.”
Webb said he received letters from applicants saying Purdue was the only school that responded with a personal letter, something he said Cable-Whitworth was instrumental in accomplishing.
“Diana was awfully good,” Webb said of her time as graduate secretary. “I would hire her again.”
Webb said Cable-Whitworth was always willing to help graduate students get the correct forms, get their teaching schedules, and do whatever else they needed to be successful. He said he is in contact with hundreds of former students and they often ask how Cable-Whitworth is doing.
“I get more inquiries about ‘how is Diana?’ than anyone else in the department,” he said. “I show her pictures of former students’ kids when I get them.”
Cable-Whitworth said she enjoyed the graduate secretary position because it allowed her to get acquainted with the graduate students.
“We were all young then and we had a ball,” she said. “We just did a lot of stuff together. We were just one big happy family.”
Webb said their relationship has continued through the years and Cable-Whitworth is always willing to help him with projects if he asks, even though her responsibilities don’t directly involve him anymore.
“She will certainly be missed by me more than anyone else in the department,” Webb said. “I will miss her presence — she is a positive influence in the department and that will be missed. It’s not the work, it’s the presence.”
After working with Webb, Cable-Whitworth was promoted to secretary to the department head under Dave Berg, a position she maintained through three department heads, including Charles Stewart, who promoted her to administrative assistant to the department head.
“We’ve had a great relationship with Diana,” Stewart said of himself and his wife, Jane. “She was a person that if you wanted something done you asked Diana to take it over.”
Stewart said Cable-Whitworth knew everything that was going on the department including promotions, budgets and salaries because he trusted her with the information.
“I knew with absolute certainty that nothing would leave that office,” he said. “She was someone you could talk to about things and let off steam.”
In addition, Stewart said Cable-Whitworth was always pleasant to work with and was always willing to take on additional tasks when needed. He said staff, faculty members and graduate students often came to Cable-Whitworth if they needed someone to talk to.
“She has been a mother to generations of graduate students,” Stewart said, adding that when Cable-Whitworth attends academic conferences long-time faculty members from other schools will look her up to see how she is doing and to reminisce about their days at Purdue.
“Diana was worked with generations of faculty and has built very close relationships,” he said. “I can’t imagine the department without her.”
During Stewart’s tenure as department head, the communication department moved from cramped conditions in Heavilon Hall to the new Beering Hall in the early 1990s. The move involved around 135 people, Cable-Whitworth said, and was a big project.
“Professor Stewart and I were so stressed we argued, but we got it done,” she said. “Moving in here we thought this place was so big, but now we don’t have enough room!”
Even after Stewart moved on from the department head position, he and Cable-Whitworth continued to meet every week for lunch.
“When he heard I was retiring he said, ‘Where are we going to eat lunch?’” she said, adding that they will continue to meet for lunch occasionally, whether in West Lafayette or Delphi.
In addition to being the administrative assistant to the department, Cable-Whitworth has also served the department as administrative assistant to the faculty, a position which involves maintaining personnel folders, handling committee selection and faculty voting, assigning offices, dealing with promotion documents, maintaining listservs, and handling visitor parking passes.
Most recently, Cable-Whitworth has served as schedule deputy for the department, putting together the entire course schedule while trying to fulfill as many of the faculty and graduate students’ schedule requests as possible.
“I do enjoy the schedule because it is like a big puzzle,” she said. “You think it isn’t going to work, but then all of a sudden it comes together. I’m always glad when it finally prints online.”
Cable-Whitworth said part of the reason she has enjoyed the move to schedule deputy is because of her supervisor, Professor Glenn Sparks.
“If I didn’t have the boss I have I wouldn’t enjoy it as much,” she said. “He is wonderful to work for.”
Sparks said Cable-Whitworth had been helping with scheduling and made a natural transition into the schedule deputy role, a process overseen by department head Howard Sypher.
“It was something she wanted to do,” he said. “She had done every job in the department.”
Sparks said the Cable-Whitworth’s ability to handle scheduling is just another example of her capacity to do whatever the department requires.
“The extraordinary thing about Diana is that at the end of the day she just really cares about what happens here,” Sparks said. “With that motivation she is willing to learn anything.”
Sparks said Cable-Whitworth has done an excellent job with the schedule and always manages to make it fit together each semester. He said scheduling can get stressful, but Cable-Whitworth has a great personality to deal with the pressure.
“Every semester she finishes a schedule that exceeds many small colleges,” he said. “She has really done a superb job with it.”
Sparks said he believes her retirement will be a shocking event for the department in some ways, as it will require restructuring and new personnel.
“The school would not be what it is without Diana being here as long as she has,” Sparks said. “It has been really fun working with her in this capacity.
“But Diana being who she is, I think she will continue to care about this place,” he said.
Cable-Whitworth said she has a wealth of good memories from her time in the communication department. Some of these include singing Christmas carols around a piano at the department’s Christmas party, watching faculty and graduate students limp into the department (one actually using crutches!) on the Monday after what was supposed to be a “touch” football game, the clerical staff celebrating each others’ birthdays by decorating their desks, and attending student events and graduations.
“I was lucky to get a good department,” she said. “The com department is more personable. I was fortunate to get in here right away because everybody is “normal people” and they can relate to you.”
Cable-Whitworth said the faculty and other staff members have been wonderful to her, as several of them came to support her when her mother died, babysat her cats, helped her and her father move, and hosted a wedding shower for her.
“If something happens to anyone in the department they are there to help,” she said. “It’s a personable department.”
Part of Cable-Whitworth’s desire to retire now is that she would like to spend more time with her husband, Mike Whitworth, whom she describes as “the most wonderful guy in the whole wide world.”
“That’s what I tell him every day,” she said. “We are excited about being retired together.”
Cable-Whitworth, who married Whitworth in 2009, said she had given up on getting married, but now she can’t imagine her life any other way. The two had known each other for several years through Whitworth’s first wife, Liz, who also worked in the communication department. Liz and Cable-Whitworth were close friends, spending time together even after the Whitworths moved away from West Lafayette. When Liz was diagnosed with cancer, Cable-Whitworth went to stay with the couple, and later after Liz died, she went again to help Whitworth sort through his wife’s things. At that point the two began thinking about the possibility of being a couple and from there things moved quickly. Cable-Whitworth said one of the strengths of their relationship is that they both loved Liz and enjoyed talking about their memories of her, which led them to realize how much they had in common.
“We haven’t stopped talking,” she said. “We are so compatible.”
Cable-Whitworth said her retirement plans include gardening and planting fruit trees on their property in Delphi, Ind. She said she grew up on a farm and has always lived in the country, but her husband is just getting used to rural life and likes the idea of making their home a mini-farm.
“He likes the country,” she said. “We keep talking about the vegetables we are going to grow.”
Cable-Whitworth said they will probably also take some short trips now that they have more free time, but said they don’t want to leave their animals too long (they have two cats, Happy and Dusty, and a dog, Bear).
“We just want to be at home and enjoy life,” she said. “We are excited about being retired together. The nice thing about retirement is you get to be together and do the things you want to do, but can’t because you are working.”
Cable-Whitworth said she will miss the faculty, staff and students, but not getting up at 4 a.m. to make it to work on time.
“I won’t miss working,” she said. “But I will miss the people.”
Written by Erin Doss
Graduate student, Rhetoric