Getting Personal: Barbara McFadden Allen

Each week, we offer an email Q&A with a local personality. Today, Paul Wood chats with 54-year-old Champaign resident Barbara McFadden Allen, the executive director of the academic consortium of Big Ten universities and the University of Chicago.

What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?

I travel a good deal for work, so that always plays havoc with a schedule — but when I am home, I get up at 6 a.m., read The News-Gazette (print), peruse The New York Times (digital), check my Facebook and email accounts, then head out for one of my patented short, slow runs around the neighborhood.

What did you have for lunch today? Where? With whom?

Today, I had a quick bowl of soup at my desk, squeezed in between meetings.

Best high school memory?

Oh, I loved high school! We had a small class of 42, and I am still good friends with my classmates. Because there were so few of us, you got to participate in all kinds of activities: band trips, chorus trips, math club Olympics. If it involved a bus and room for 40 high-spirited kids, we did it and had fun doing it.

Tell me about your favorite pair of shoes.

When I was about 7, my sister and I got matching gold lame bedroom slippers. I loved them so much, I insisted on wearing them on all occasions. I got quite a few second looks at recess, but I was an early fashion pioneer. I recently found and purchased a pair of gold lame flats and have been wearing them far more than is appropriate for a grown woman. I love them just as much as I did when I was 7.

What does a perfect Sunday afternoon include?

Enjoying time with my husband and best friend, Rod Allen. Reading on the back patio, taking a walk in Meadowbrook Park, taking in a matinee at the Art Theater, then meeting friends for dinner.

Was there one book you read as a child that you still cherish? Own? Read?

I am an absolutely voracious reader. I loved "Heidi," "Little House on the Prairie" and Nancy Drew. I also developed a love for Edgar Allen Poe, and I continue to find his writings compelling.

Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?

Istanbul. The confluence of the East and West, the modern and the ancient is very compelling.

Tell me about your favorite pet.

I've had cats all my life (before my parents allowed me to have a pet, I would go down in the woods and tame feral cats). Our two twin cats (Elwood and Jake) are my current favorites.

Have you discovered that you are becoming like one of your parents? Which one and how?

I like to think that I've inherited the best of their qualities — including a sense of humor.

What would you order for your last meal?

I would ask my mom to make her special fried chicken, corn on the cob and a German chocolate cake.

What can you not live without?

Books.

Who do you have on your iPod?

Audio books (I'm just finishing up "The Hunchback of Notre Dame"), guided meditations and "Frampton Comes Alive!"

What's the happiest memory of your life?

I have a big, messy, happy family — so spending time with them throughout my life has always provided happy moments. And the day I married my husband.

If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite?

Bette Midler, Hillary Clinton and Rod Allen. Three very smart, very funny people. Not sure we would get around to actually eating the dinner!

What's the best advice you've ever been given?

When you're stuck in a challenging situation and don't know what to do, think of the leader you most admire and imagine how they would handle the situation. Then just do that.

What's your best piece of advice?

Do good. Be honest. Work hard. Play hard.

What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?

I was a waitress at King's Restaurant in Jefferson City, Mo. Despite the name, it was not particularly regal. I can't quite remember, but I think it was $1.25 an hour.

What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?

I started my career as a librarian, and I was good at it and really enjoyed it. About 15 years ago, the CIC board asked me to transition from leading library initiatives to leading and directing projects across the entire spectrum of the academic enterprise. That was a pretty big leap without a safety net. And it was the best thing I've ever done besides marrying my husband.

Do you have a bad habit? What is it?

I am an excellent swearer.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

I swear. Then I run.

 

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