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Secretary caps 48-year run

Published Aug. 28, 2005

Dorothy Bishop is a repository of Stetson law school history. She is, in fact, part of that history.

In June 1956, just two weeks out of high school, she started work as a secretary at the 104-year-old college. Over the years, she worked for six deans. She speaks with respect for the people who struggled to keep the school going and remembers when nearly all of the students were men.

Today, Florida's oldest law school and a Gulfport landmark for 50 years is headed by a woman.

This week, after almost half a century, Miss Bishop is retiring.

"I've been thinking about it for a couple of years," she said during an interview on the picturesque Stetson University College of Law campus.

She said she first mentioned her decision to dean and vice president W. Gary Vause, who died of cancer in 2003.

"He said he hoped I would stay as long as he would be staying," Miss Bishop said.

She put her retirement on hold. After Darby Dickerson took over as dean, she didn't feel it was appropriate to leave _ until now.

"I just feel it's the right time," she said.

Still, it's not going to be easy, she admitted. "I'm going to miss the daily routine. I just want to enjoy myself while my health is somewhat intact."

"I wish she'd change her mind. I keep telling her, please don't go," said professor and dean emeritus Bruce Jacob.

Jacob has known Miss Bishop since 1957. She knows and values the college's history, he said.

"She is just the best. There's nobody like her," said Jacob, who served as dean from 1981 to 1994.

"Anything that needs to be done, she'll do it. She's a wonderful person to work with, very loyal, somebody you can always count on. She has very good judgment. You know she is going to do the right thing."

Miss Bishop, who is 67, is looking forward to gardening. She is fond of roses and hibiscus plants. She also plans to devote more time to playing the piano, especially classical and Broadway music from the 1940s and 1950s.

One of three children _ her sister Sheila Young also lives in the area _ she moved to St. Petersburg at age 13. Now that she is retiring, Miss Bishop said she and her brother, Edward, who lives in Oregon, are talking about visiting Utica, N.Y., where they were born.

At St. Petersburg High School, she studied typing and Gregg shorthand. It was shortly after graduation that she went to the Erickson Employment Agency in downtown St. Petersburg to search for a secretarial job. She learned that Stetson law school was looking for a secretary.

"I had not heard of it," she said of the college.

She chuckled when she recalled a woman from the agency saying, "Can you read up on the law?"

"I guess she expected me to become a lawyer overnight," she said.

In a day or two she was interviewed by Kay Eddy, admissions director and administrative assistant to dean Harold L. Sebring. Mrs. Eddy, who later also took on the title of registrar, hired Miss Bishop on the spot for the $35-a-week job.

That weekend she shopped for a new wardrobe and one important item.

"I bought a steno pad to bring with me the first day. They were so impressed," Miss Bishop said.

In those days, she said, there was no air conditioning, only box fans. She sometimes wore sundresses _ "they were modest sundresses" _ to be comfortable at work. And her new boss became her mentor.

"Mrs. Eddy was a very strict disciplinarian. You learned the right way to do things," she said.

As the years have passed, so have the tools of her job. But she continues to use her shorthand.

"I think it's something of a lost art these days," she said. "It's served me well."

With the rest of the world, she's moved from manual typewriters to electric _ there are still two or three on campus for emergencies _ to computers. Over her 48 years at the law school, she has seen the campus grow from about 200 students, when she knew almost everyone, to more than 800.

The St. Petersburg resident credits the success of the school to the hard work of Sebring and other leaders who followed.

"Dean Sebring had an acquaintance with so many wonderful, respected judges and lawyers throughout the state who were interested in seeing the school prosper," she said. "It's a wonderful place to work and a person doesn't stay in the same place this long if they're not happy," she said.

"Time has gone by so quickly. It doesn't seem like 48 years."

Her departure is a loss for Stetson, Jacob said.

" I don't known how we're going to function. If there's anybody that's indispensable in this place, it's Dorothy Bishop."