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60 seconds with Diane Whalen…

After an impressive 48 years working at UEA, one member of the Human Resources team is calling it a day, and heading off for her well-deserved retirement. Diane Whalen, HR Administrator, started her career at UEA on 9 October 1972 as an Office Junior in Overseas Development and has since gone on to work in a variety of roles across the university, and many of you will have been helped by her when first starting at UEA, or through enquiries relating to maternity leave and the Temporary Staff Register.

She told us how the new arrival of The Broad has been one of the biggest changes she’s seen during her time at UEA, what she’ll miss about working here and why she’ll be heading up and down the UK once she’s finished.

How many different roles have you held at UEA?

In 1972 I started as an Office Junior in Overseas Development Group, after a year I moved to the Appointments Office (renamed Careers Centre) as PA to the then Director, David Ward. My last move was in 1982 to the Establishment Office (renamed Human Resources Office). Here, I held a number of roles, initially PA to Jack Pilgrim the Senior Assistant Establishment Officer, followed by PA to Richard Beck the Director of Personnel and most recently as HR Administrator, providing, amongst other things, advice to hundreds of staff when taking maternity/paternity leave or when requesting Temporary Staff from the Register.


What’s changed the most about UEA in the 48 years you’ve worked here?

Lots has changed since I started working here - from the repurposing of buildings and offices to some new additions joining the campus, such as Lord and Lady Sainsbury gifting the UEA the Sainsbury Centre which opened in 1978, and Lottery funding contributed to the opening of the UEA Sportspark in 2001.

The views have changed rapidly across campus and many areas have become building sites. Around 1973, digging started to build a huge lake at the bottom of the campus near the Yare Valley, now known as The Broad.


What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced?

I joined the Establishment Office in October 1982 (now Human Resources) when word processors were just being introduced and the biggest challenge ‘secretaries’ faced then was moving from an imperial manual typewriter to a word processor.

In my third week, I spent two days on a training course to learn how to operate what can only be described as a massive electronic table with a single line screen in the middle, known as a word processor! I suppose this could now be seen as a highlight and life-changing event in my career.

Another challenge was student demonstrations and building occupations were popular in the 1970s and 80s. Hundreds of students took part in demonstrations and occupied the Arts Building just before I started work at UEA.  


Three things you can’t live without? 

My lipstick, my family and Chocolate!


What will you miss most about UEA? 

Contact with friends and colleagues across a variety of departments at UEA that I’ve known and worked with for many years and the support these people give at difficult times. Also, I’ll miss organising activities and trips with the UEA Staff Association. 


Do you have any big plans for once you finish?

Becoming a first-time grandparent; spending more time with my family and dogs; travelling around the UK and not having to worry about coming back to hundreds of emails!


What’s your stand-out story about your time at UEA? 

When I finished my first day I told my parents all that had happened and in the conversation I told them that “Richard introduced me to the team”. My father told me I was very disrespectful for referring to him by his first name and that I should respect my boss. Trying to explain to him that this was how things were in a University environment was not easy and I don’t think he ever understood that times were changing. And they certainly have changed massively over the 47 happy years I’ve spent at UEA. One thing never changed…I never once called the VC’s PA by her first name, she was always Miss Whitt, even after she retired.