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Updated 10:00 AM June 21, 2004



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Laurie Staples

Laurie Staples, an employee at U-M for 40 years, died at home June 6 of liver and pancreatic cancer. She was 60.

She served for the last 15 years as assistant director of the Survey Research Center (SRC), the largest center in the Institute for Social Research (ISR).
(Photo by Joanne Lound)

Staples was born Nov. 14, 1943, in Boston, the daughter of the late Ward and Barbara (Rockwell) Messimer. She received her bachelor's degree from Eastern Michigan University and her master's from Central Michigan while raising her family and working full time in demanding positions at U-M.

She began her career as an entry-level clerk in the admitting office at the University Hospital. There she learned the value of helping patients and others that became the cornerstone of her career. From 1964-89, she held a series of administrative positions in Hospital Financial Operations and Ambulatory Care Services Administration at the Medical Center.

Staples joined the SRC in 1989 as administrative manager and became assistant director in 1994. In 2002, she was awarded the Distinguished Research Administrative Award by the Office of the Vice President for Research for "exceptional and distinguished service, leadership and accomplishment."

Staples earned a reputation for her extensive efforts to improve both administration of the SRC and the work environment for the investigators and other staff. Her devotion to excellence extended to other parts of ISR and the University, and she contributed enthusiastically to many committees, through which she helped improve research administration across the institution, colleagues say.

After she become ill this spring, ISR friends and colleagues gathered for a standing-room-only celebration of her career, during which many of the people who had worked with her praised her humor, style, organizational savvy and fierce loyalty to the organization.

ISR emeritus research scientist Robert Kahn referred to her "administrative genius" and said, "Some administrators in large organizations seem to regard their function like that of zoo-keepers—keep the animals from doing any serious damage and train them by constantly reminding them what they must not do. And then there are those rare administrators who identify completely with the core mission of the organization, see their function as enabling people to do the things that advance those core activities, manage to do all that and at the same time, make sure that people don't get in trouble. Laurie is of that rare administrative breed."

Survivors include her loving husband James Bigwood, daughters Catherine (Lee) Gearig of Troy, Christine (Nicholas) Hatfield of Denver, step-daughter Dawn (James) Burton of Germfask, Mich., and grandchildren Carolyn, Jack, Catherine, Chelsea and Lauren, with another expected in November. Siblings Linda Nye of Sand Springs, Okla., Thomas Messimer, of Pinckney, Stephen Messimer of Escanaba, Mary Hayek of Brighton and Nancy Bailey of Scotland also survive her.

A memorial celebration of her life was held June 10. The family requests that memorial contributions go to Arbor Hospice and Home Care.

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