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Dec. 14, 2006 • Volume 15 Number 8

Bureau of Conferences Director David Early with his indispensible phone, and his equally indispensible BOC staff (L-R, Tim Rice, Cathy Jamieson, Sheri Young and Jim Mastin): "If the rugby team wants to have a meeting in a classroom or we want to have a dinner for 100 people in the Heights Room, it all comes through us." (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

In Any Event, It's a Lot of Work

Commencement, confabs, concerts: David Early and BOC do it all

After 32 years of service to Boston College, Bureau of Conferences Director David Early is finally ready to reveal a shocking secret.

"Boston College never actually hired me," he says.

The former Lyons Hall grill cook first arrived at BC in 1974 as an employee of a food service firm that was under contract to run the University's dining operations. When it became apparent that the company was about to be sold, BC took on its employees, a few of who continue to work at the University.

"I was lucky that I never sat for a job interview and I never filled out an application," laughs Early, who eventually became a manager in Dining Services until he took his present job in 1989. "But the paychecks kept coming so I kept coming to work."

December is one of those months when Early truly earns his paycheck. Even as BC's academic and administrative activity begins to wind down for the coming semester break, Early and the Bureau of Conferences staff are hard at work helping offices and departments put together holiday parties and other functions.

"Don't get me wrong, we attend a lot of those parties, too," said Early, "But this is a busy time of year in here."

Busy doesn't begin to describe life in the BOC Walsh Hall offices. Each year the department handles between 13,000 and 14,000 reservations from faculty, students and alumni groups for the use of space in the dozen campus buildings that can accommodate events and meetings. Of that, the crew of five annually manages or provides some service for about 8,000 events ranging from simple departmental meetings all way to the University's annual Commencement Exercises held each May.

"Sure, it's a lot of work, but we've done it with about the same size staff and budget that we had when I started here 17 years ago," he said, praising the efforts and dedication of BOC administrators Jim Mastin, Tim Rice, Sheri Young and Catherine Jamieson.

"Commencement would be a disaster without Dave Early," said University Secretary Joseph Duffy, SJ, whose office coordinates Commencement each year. "Dave is always very accommodating and very available to problems and issues that arise. He's very sensitive about maintaining the University as a place that cares, both on and off campus."

BOC staff assist with all levels of planning, from preparing the room to determining meal menus, and work to make sure everything is done on time and on budget. BOC collaborates with other BC offices such as the Facilities Services Custodial and Grounds Maintenance departments, Catering, the Boston College Police Department and the many vendors who provide tables and chairs, tents and flowers. This spirit of cooperation is integral to making campus events successful, Early says.

"I know 95 percent of the people at BC, and I love meeting people and love talking to them - that's my reward," said Early. "Hearing back from people and knowing that they and their guests had a good time is pretty nice, too."

In addition to its event-planning role, BOC serves as the clearinghouse for groups to reserve space for meetings and events on campus.

"If the rugby team wants to have a meeting in a classroom or we want to have a dinner for 100 people in the Heights Room, it all comes through us," said Early.

Early says his favorite annual event is Commencement, which takes six months to plan and represents the culmination of the BC experience.

"Commencement is the most important event of the year," said Early. "We have to make it as special as possible, and make sure it goes perfectly."

Of course, not everything always goes perfectly, and Early's job has given him a front row seat at some of the more humorous near misses, averted disasters and close calls that are a natural part of the game in event planning. One year, an incident at Commencement represented the manifestation of his worst nightmare.

As it had for years, explains Early, the University that day used a disguised flatbed trailer for a stage, which was rolled into Alumni Stadium and supported by a system of hydraulic lifts. Early was standing off to the side watching as the ceremony unfolded.

"Suddenly I notice that the stage is sinking very slowly," he said. "The hydraulics must have failed."

A few quick calls got a crew of tradesmen on the scene and the sinking was halted - just in the nick of time - and without anyone on stage missing a beat.

"There we were right in the middle of Commencement with guys pounding away trying to get that thing to stop collapsing. Looking back it's easy to smile, but that could have been a disaster," he said.

A crisis at a recent Pops on the Heights event required some quick action by the BC Police, Early says.

"They were all set to start the concert and someone [in the Pops Esplanade Orchestra] realized that they didn't have the sheet music," laughed Early. "So we had to put them in a BCPD cruiser and get them downtown and back before the show started."

Early says he's most proud of the 2000 Finance Conference, which was held in Conte Forum and included a visit by then-Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, leading executives from top technology firms and plenty of national media attention.

"Most people didn't realize it at the time, but the night before there was a hockey game in Conte Forum that went into overtime. So we really had to scramble to get the floor over the ice put down and all the staging and lights set up.

"We worked from about 10 p.m. to 10 a.m., but it went off without a hitch and we were ready for all those executives."

Says Fr. Duffy, "Dave is always on top of the situation. If things are going badly behind the scenes no one will ever know it. That's one of Dave's great skills."

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