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If you want to know how to set up the BU Castle dining room for a wedding, ask Rose Girouard. How to properly greet distinguished visitors at BU President Robert A. Brown’s door? Ask Rose. How to serve strawberries that met the exacting standards of the late University president John Silber (Hon.’95)? Ask Rose.
There’s a reason her Dining Services colleagues call Girouard “the Queen of the Castle,” although her realm extends well beyond the Bay State Road facility that’s a favorite site for events and parties (and soon to be the new Dahod Family Alumni Center). The petite, impeccably coiffed Girouard has been an integral member of the waitstaff for 44 years, and “she knows every little thing—every system and every procedure,” says Dining Services director Barbara Laverdiere.
She’s had plenty of time to learn, and the 81-year-old great-grandmother of three shows few signs of slowing down. “When someone asks if she’s going to retire,” says Laverdiere, “she says no, she’s too young.”
Girouard did her first Dining Services shift in 1971. A single mother of three young boys—her husband was killed in an accident just after the youngest was born—she had long been accustomed to making her way in the world. She’d been a secretary at Household Finance and a lunchroom monitor in the Newton schools. A friend who worked at BU asked Girouard to join her on the waitstaff. “I said, ‘No, I don’t think I’d like that,’” she recalls. But the friend kept asking, and finally, Girouard relented. “I said, ‘OK, I’ll come, I’ll come.’ I just didn’t want her to ask anymore.” She’s never looked back.
And while she’s “Queen of the Castle” to her colleagues, she could equally be called “the server of Silber.” She and Silber arrived at BU the same year, and Girouard personally waited on him, both at his residence and at University functions. Attending to the needs of the formidable and famously exacting president was not a job for the faint of heart, but the two clicked, and she has nothing but fond memories of the man she unfailingly refers to as “Dr. Silber.”
“I was his waitstaff for these many years; I knew him very well,” says Girouard. “He was a wonderful gentleman whom other people did not know, and they don’t recall him as so wonderful, but I think he was.”
Wonderful, perhaps. Easy, no. “I mean, the man was a perfectionist,” she continues. “He wanted things done his way, and he molded me without me knowing it. I did make mistakes, and I always thought, oh, boy, he’s going to fire me. If he didn’t like you, you weren’t going to be around.”
Girouard appreciated being held to a high standard, she says, and Silber, in turn, appreciated her discretion and her candor. “He liked me because I minded my own business; I did my job. One time, at a party, a trustee put her arm around me and said, ‘The Boston Globe would love to get ahold of you.’ I said, ‘Why would they want me?’ She said, ‘Oh, what you could tell them.’ I said, ‘What I could tell them? I’m only here to pick up dishes and replenish glasses. I don’t stand around listening to what they say; I could never tell them anything.’”
She says that Silber knew she could be counted on for discretion, just as he knew she would offer her frank opinion when asked. He showed her the photo when his official portrait was shot, asking, “How do you like this, Rose?” Her response: “I really don’t like it, Dr. Silber. It’s too busy; all you see is the background.” He had the photo retaken. Once again, Girouard wondered if she’d put her job on the line. “He said, ‘Rose, you don’t tell me what you think I want to hear.’ He didn’t like ‘yes’ people,” she recalls. “That wasn’t how you got along with him.”
Then again, Girouard seems to have a knack for getting along with others. Her gracious and welcoming manner has made her a natural at greeting party guests at the door as they arrive. “She knows every name, every trustee, all their dietary needs, every idiosyncrasy, and she never forgets,” says Laverdiere. “She loves taking care of people, and she wants every guest to feel special. You can’t train that.”
But that doesn’t stop Girouard from trying. Part of her responsibilities is training student workers, most of them some 60 years her junior. Many octogenarians might find the task daunting; for Girouard, it’s exhilarating to spend time with young people. “They give me energy, the way they fool around. It’s wonderful. These students are terrific. Every student has given me something. The boys are wonderful. They’re so kind. I tell them all, ‘Your mother brought you up right.’” It’s a two-way street.
“She loves taking care of people, and she wants every guest to feel special. You can’t train that.”
“The young people have an incredible amount of respect for her, and for her institutional knowledge,” Laverdiere says. “They treat her sort of like the grandmother who knows everything. She nicely teaches them how to do things, and when she admonishes, she does that nicely, too. I could not see my own parents sitting in a room full of 20-year-olds. She’s just comfortable in that atmosphere.”
Girouard has nothing but praise for the managers, supervisors, and colleagues she’s worked with over the past four and a half decades. “Everyone here is just so nice, so kind,” she says. “I’ve had wonderful managers, wonderful directors. Every new group that comes in, we just seem to get along. I’m very fortunate—very, very fortunate.”
And while she may be one of nature’s optimists, she does have some pet peeves—chief among them a certain faux pas. “I don’t like people who double dip,” she says firmly. “That is a bad thing with me.” And she’s seen her share of odd behavior at the functions she’s worked. “I don’t like it when people put their rolls in their water glasses. I don’t know why you’d do that.” (If anyone might know the answer to that one, it would surely be Girouard.)
The very embodiment of the principle “the customer is always right,” she does her best to comply with guests’ requests, however odd or unreasonable. “You never argue,” she says. She’s much more inclined to dwell on the many occasions when guests have gone out of their way to offer a compliment or to praise her work. “I take pride in what I do,” she says simply. “I feel I do a good job.”
It’s physically demanding work, and although Girouard has scaled back her hours a bit, she’s not making any plans for retirement just yet. When that day arrives, she says, she’d be very appreciative if a little party were thrown in her honor.
As if. “That will be a party to rival Commencement, when she leaves,” says Laverdiere. “I can’t imagine the guest list. I know how many current and former senior level administrators would want to be part of it, and trustees—never mind all the student waitstaff that she taught and assisted. That will be a very special event, a very, very well-deserved, but sad day. We’ll send her off with the biggest hurrah ever when she finally hangs up the apron.”
Jane Dornbusch can be reached at email@example.com.