Cynthia Degnan Brodhead seems to be living the advice of her husband, Richard H. Brodhead: Revel in the role of an intellectual risk taker.
Brodhead, who is known as Cindy, grew up in Lockport, New York, and attended Syracuse University. She graduated in 1968, having majored in English literature, and enrolled in Yale's graduate program in English. There she met Dick Brodhead, a fellow Ph.D. candidate. Years later, she recalled their courtship for the Yale Daily News: "His car was well known, it was a Volkswagen Bug convertible. It had a terrible problem starting, and since I couldn't drive stick, I had to push the car through the street while he drove.... But that's when he knew I found him irresistible."
They were married in 1970, while he was still working on his dissertation. Having decided not to complete her own Ph.D., she began a stint as a book-manuscript editor at Yale University Press, then joined American Scientist, a journal associated with the scientific research society Sigma Xi. (Formerly based in New Haven, the society and its journal subsequently moved to Research Triangle Park.)
The 1976-77 academic year, when she accompanied her husband on a sabbatical in England, was, for both of them, a time for self-renewal; she took the opportunity to rethink her professional course. That rethinking led her to law school at the University of Connecticut. Their son, Daniel, was born in her second year as a law student.
She joined a New Haven firm that specialized in banking and commercial real-estate law. After a couple of years, she took a job as an in-house lawyer for a major public utility, then became an associate with Wiggin and Dana in New Haven, focusing on electric-utility issues. She held that position until moving to Durham this past summer.
All this time, she and her husband were high-profile campus figures. "One of the true delights of being at a university is that you are always dealing with smart people," she says. "When they turn out to be personally warm and fun to know, as well as giving you this intellectual excitement, what could be better than that?"
Cindy Brodhead says she's already encountered that warmth and intellectual excitement at Duke. This will be "a year of exploration," she says. Part of that will be exploring a new geography. While she grew up, went to school, and worked in the North, she talks enthusiastically about Southerners' strong sense of place and their pride in a distinctive identity. And she has a complex campus to master. At Duke, she says, "I'm going to be getting to know people. I want to learn about the place, I want to see what makes it run, what people love, what they think could use improvement." She says she and her husband are looking forward to moving into the renovated Hart House, on the edge of campus. "We both like feeling that we're in the thick of things," she says.
Even as she gets into the thick of the campus and the region, she also is determined to be exploring options for herself. "My colleagues at the law firm all said, 'You're so fortunate to be able to take time to figure out what you want to do.' Many of them thought that was an opportunity they would have loved. I need to see what's required in the role of the president's spouse. Obviously, historically it's been done in different ways."
Eventually, she says, she does see a professional role for herself. "Possibly that will be law. But I have done that for a long time. It's a gift to have this time to think that through."
Daniel Brodhead's professional path has the same starting point as his mother's--book publishing. Brodhead, who turned twenty-five just before inauguration weekend, is a marketing coordinator, specializing in trade books, for W.W. Norton & Company in New York. In an age of publishing houses that operate as offspring of conglomerates, Norton is unusual: It is independent and employee owned.
His location in New York meant that he could take in last December's Duke-Texas game in Madison Square Garden. Just weeks earlier, he came to campus for the press conference announcing his father's appointment to the presidency. Reflecting on those quite different events, he says he's felt instantly welcomed into the Duke family.
While he may be following his mother's example professionally, Daniel Brodhead followed his father's example educationally and enrolled at Yale, from which he graduated in 2001. He did a senior essay on Yosemite National Park and the origins of the land-preservation movement. Appropriate to his academic interest in environmental history, he led several Yale freshman-orientation wilderness trips. He is also a sports enthusiast; at Yale, he played intramural squash, hockey, and Ultimate Frisbee.
Although a history major, he also did a lot of coursework in English. Asked how tough a grader his father is, he demurs. "I never took a course with him," he says. "So I'm not qualified to answer."
November 30, 2004