Debra Manning

an African American woman stands in the threshold of a large house

After an extraordinary 38 years, Debra Manning reflects on her time at Rhodes.

By Matthew Harris ’20

Before coming to Rhodes, Debra Manning was working at a national hotel chain but was looking for something that would be more dependable. “I was at church one Sunday and there was a lady that was talking about her job at Rhodes. I thought the position sounded interesting, and I have always loved how the campus looked.”

And dependable Rhodes proved to be—before her retirement in February, Manning served 38 years at the college, becoming one of its longest-serving employees. While the campus grew over the years, the pace of the work and the feel of security that Rhodes provided was always there. “Rhodes was a great job,” says Manning. “It was a good place to work—there’s not a lot you have to worry about when you’re working here.” 

Manning was originally assigned an academic building and East Hall, later renamed Robinson Hall. When President James Daughdrill retired in 1999, Manning’s longtime co-worker and friend Joyce Rollins also retired as Executive Housekeeper at the president’s house to continue working with him. Manning got the nod to take over her role as executive housekeeper and  began working in the President’s house the same year that William and Carole Troutt began their tenure at Rhodes. “I was a bit nervous at the time because I didn’t know what to expect, but excited because it was something new.”

For the Troutts, who had not had a housekeeper prior to coming to Rhodes, Manning’s presence was at first a bit strange. Though President Troutt was often away due to his work at Rhodes, Carole Troutt could often be found at the home and had to adjust to Manning’s help. 

“In the mornings when I would get there, she would have fixed enough coffee and enough bran muffins for President Troutt and me and be in the middle of cleaning. It took some time for her to get used to me being there to do the work.”

Manning and the Troutts quickly established a routine, and her and Carole Troutt’s similar personalities and interests led to a long-lasting friendship. 

“There were lot of things she and I did together. In fact, she would say we were Lucy and Ethel. We would cook together, garden, and help take care of the house. They were there for 19 years, so we had a lot of time to get to know each other.”

When she began considering retirement, Manning asked her children their opinion. While they were surprised, they were both supportive of her decision and worked with her to get everything in order. “I talk with them all the time, on everything. So, when I realized that it was time, I asked them what they thought.”

For most, a 38-year career would merit a well-deserved break, but that’s not for Manning. She’s already looking toward her next adventure.

“I think I’ll miss coming to work every day. I’m going to find something to be my new routine. I’m still trying to figure out what that will be, but it has to be something that will keep me going and keep me moving.”

“Rhodes is certainly going to miss Debra Manning,” says Rhodes president Jennifer Collins.  “She is an extraordinary woman who has served Rhodes with remarkable dedication, grace, and professionalism for decades. I know the entire community joins me in wishing her the best on her very well-deserved retirement.” 

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In addition to being recognized as Employee of the Month in 1994 and Employee of the Quarter in 2002, Manning was selected to receive the 2014-2015 Administrative Staff Service Award.