After 41 years tending to the people and places of the Department of Physics, Director of Administrative Services Lorraine DeSalvo retired in December. In tribute, colleagues established the Lorraine DeSalvo Chair's Endowed Award for Outstanding Service to provide annual recognition to physics employees who demonstrate exemplary commitment to their work. 

DeSalvo graduated from the University of Maryland in 1972 and immediately accepted a job in the Department of Chemistry. 

“I have had the pleasure of knowing so many truly wonderful staff members on this campus during my years here,” she said. “Having this fund to recognize physics department colleagues is the finest farewell I could have asked for.” 

DeSalvo’s duties covered both facilities and human relations, meaning that she knew every inch of space and every employee. Her vast institutional memory and cross-campus contacts allowed her to untangle innumerable bureaucratic knots.  As Department Chair Steve Rolston noted, the most commonly uttered phrase in the department in recent decades may well have been, “Just ask Lorraine.” 

Modern, energy-intensive physics experiments long strained the aging infrastructure of the John S. Toll Physics Building and required constant vigilance and frequent, extensive renovations. When funding was approved for the new Physical Sciences Complex, DeSalvo’s workload expanded considerably. She worked with architects, builders, and capital improvement staff to plan the move, order furniture, and ensure that labs were built to the exacting specifications of dozens of extremely particular scientists. 

She fostered camaraderie with vibrant holiday parties and memorable fiestas, extending invitations to helpful colleagues across a swath of campus sectors. To the department’s many international students, scholars and visitors, she extended her welcome, wisdom and warmth. She owned a variety of small stuffed flamingos, which she dispatched to travelers with a request for a scenic photo. A slideshow of UMD physics folks hoisting pink birds across the globe ran continually in her office. 

She also displayed a keen regard for the department’s achievements. 

After the death of physicist Joe Weber in 2000, his lab fell into disuse. DeSalvo kept protective watch over the “Weber bars,” colossal aluminum cylinders built to record gravitational waves. Years later, in 2015, the LIGO experiment detected gravitational waves, generating worldwide acclaim and renewing interest in Weber’s quest. Last March, the Weber Garden was dedicated outside of the Physical Sciences Complex.  

“Without Lorraine’s protective instincts and her foresight that the Weber bars would prove significant, these excellent monuments to UMD innovation would have been lost forever to campus and the world,” Rolston said.

As a retiree, DeSalvo says she looks forward to finding the best crab cake restaurants around—and to keeping in touch with the department. 

She was serenaded at her retirement party by the following: 

Her global flamingos and holiday parties
And summer fiestas gave Physics some verve
And year in and year out, there surely could be no doubt
How heartfelt is her motto of “I live to serve.”

Contributions to the Lorraine DeSalvo Chair's Endowed Award for Outstanding Service can be made here.

Written by Anne Suplee