Patricia Alberts, Given Mail Services Supervisor, Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont (Photo: UVM Medical Communications)
Pat Alberts has witnessed – and experienced – a lot of change in her 48 years running the mailroom at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine, both technologically and physically. But, she says, there’s one main aspect of her job that’s kept her here all those years: “The people.” And those people – students, faculty and staff – have consistently depended on her for mail services and much more.
In 1971, Alberts was a bright-eyed 20-year-old who quickly learned the ropes of running a busy mailroom. Back then, the mail room was a cubby near the back hallway water fountain on the first floor of the Given Building and there was a lot more mail.
About five months after she started, Alberts married her husband Gary and around that same time, began reporting to the UVM mail services team in the Waterman building. After the birth of her first daughter, Heather, in 1972, she was reassigned to work there.
“The College of Medicine rallied to get me back,” says Alberts. “I was placed back here within the year, where I have been ever since.” Her second daughter, Joanna, was born in 1977.
She serviced the College of Medicine – which included the Given and former Medical Alumni Buildings (located where the Medical Education Center and Larner Learning Commons are currently) – as well as the School of Nursing and School of Allied Health Sciences. The numbers of medical students, faculty and staff were much smaller. For example, the College of Medicine Dean’s Office had between 10 and 15 people, including admissions and student affairs personnel.
Often, bags of mail – and sometimes, 10 to 15 trays of College of Medicine admissions applications – would line the hallways near the mailroom. And for years before the Internet came into play, Alberts also distributed exams and handled the mailing of fourth-year students’ residency applications, sometimes numbering 20 per student.
A few of her best friends and colleagues from those days included the late H. Lawrence “Larry” McCrorey, Ph.D., professor emeritus of molecular physiology and biophysics and former UVM acting vice president for academic affairs and dean of the School of Allied Health Sciences, former Professor of Pharmacology Izzy Laher (now in British Columbia), and William “Bill” Gay, former medical bookstore supervisor (yes, there was a bookstore at the College back then!). She fondly recalls the after-work parties that took place on the loading dock, to which the whole building was invited, and posting “Do you know who this baby is?” contests on the bulletin board featuring photos of medical students, faculty and staff that she’d collected.
But Alberts was more than just a whiz at mail services and impromptu social activities; she was and has continued to be an invaluable resource and generous friend to whomever has needed her help. She regularly offered to loan her car or drive students who needed to get to the airport, the bank (for a certified check), or home if they had too many packages to carry.
“People knew that if they needed anything, they could come see me – whether it was for a sewing kit, static guard, safety pin, etc. – and if I did not have what they needed, I knew where to get it,” she says.
If a medical student was purchasing postage and didn’t have enough money with them, she adds, “I would pay and when they remembered – could have been months down the road – they would always come back and say ‘Pat, I just remembered I owed you this.’”
Her colleagues returned the favor. When she was younger, she suffered from persistent migraines. The Dean’s Office had a women’s bathroom with a lounge and couch. They would give her a pillow and close the door so she could rest in the dark and cover her mailroom duties while she recovered.
“If needed, a department chair would drive me home while another followed to bring him back to campus,” she says, adding that med students would often help administer her migraine medication injections when she struggled to do so herself.
It’s no wonder the students were willing to come to her aid – she had forged strong relationships with them, knew their pre-med school stories, hometowns, let them “pour their hearts out to me about the struggles in med school” and assured them that it would get better. She had a case that was filled with mementos from students, a few of which remain in her office today.
“I was always interested in the different backgrounds the students had before entering medical school – poets, teachers, movie stars, district attorneys, students that had parents without a formal education,” says Alberts. “How proud I was for their parents to have a doctor in the family.”
Playing a part in one of the most significant milestones in the medical students’ lives – Match Day – was a beloved role for Alberts, who used to insert Match letters into students’ mailboxes aside former Associate Dean for Student Affairs Marga Sproul, M.D., for many years.
“Some students would come the day before to set up their mailbox so they didn’t have to dial the combo to get in,” she laughs, adding that on Match Day, the halls surrounding the mailroom would be filled with students, parents and children.
Alberts has relished her transition from being a peer, to being a parent figure to being a grandmother figure for students, and serving “customers” from all the neighboring campus buildings – Stafford, Hills, Rowell, HSRF, Jeffords, and the UVM Medical Center. Everyone has had to visit the mailroom – where the peppermint candy dish is always full – at some time or another, so she’s met a lot of people in her many years at the College.
Over the years, the volume of mail has been greatly reduced and “now, you scan everything,” admits Alberts. She receives UPS and Federal Express shipments and says the research packages are heavier than they used to be a couple decades ago, possibly because there’s a lot more research taking place at the College. While the students don’t depend on their mailboxes like they did in the late 20th century, most of them use their Given mailbox as their permanent address and trust Alberts to keep the packages that arrive while they’re busy in class or Clerkship safe. Truck drivers making deliveries often comment about her still being here after so many years.
“I think I’m one of the few people who stayed put,” she says, in reference to the UVM Medical Center’s Renaissance Project, which took place in the mid-2000s and included the removal of the Medical Alumni Building and construction of the Medical Education Center and concourse, as well as the Given Courtyard building project.
Among the things she misses is the outdoor Given courtyard, which had memorial trees and picnic tables, and the tunnel that linked the Medical Alumni Building – which was connected to Given on the south side – to the hospital. She loves to get visits during alumni weekend and seeing students whose parents she knew in the 1970s and 1980s. What she’ll miss most is the same thing that’s anchored her to the College of Medicine for nearly half a century – the people – and they’ll miss her, too.
“Pat’s a caring person; she cares about her customers – she’ll be missed!” says Art Thomas from UVM Dining.
UVM Mail Services’ Rich Pearl agrees. “Pat is the greatest! She always has a sense of humor and keeps up with us quite well.”
Alberts has had a great idea in mind for a potential retirement role for herself: “I always thought it would be nice to have a College of Medicine shuttle from the airport to bring the students to campus for their admission interviews,” she says. “I would have been the first to apply for that job!”
The College will be hosting a retirement celebration for Pat Alberts on Wednesday, January 23, from 1:30-3:30 p.m. in HSRF 400.