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The shelves in Cathy Cooper’s office are lined with the mementos she’s collected over the past 27 years she’s worked at Auburn University. 

There’s a framed photo of her daughter posing with Aubie back in the mid-1980s, a handmade turkey a co-worker’s daughter made for Cooper, a glass from the Kentucky Derby and an assortment of pins from Tiger Giving Day over the years. There’s a Grinch mug and a small Grinch plush, a character she’s grown to love, especially since her husband is, as Cooper joked, “the proverbial Christmas Grinch.” Then, there’s a white Facilities hard hat with a purple gecko resting on top named Scarlett that was gifted to her by someone in the department.

On her office whiteboard, in addition to a to-do list, there are two drawings left by her granddaughters. One is a rough child-like sketch of Cooper, the other a mix of colorful shapes.

“This was done years ago, and I never erased it,” Cooper said, smiling. “I’ll leave it there until I leave.”

Cooper, the director of Risk Management and Insurance, will retire on June 30 after 27-and-a-half years of working at the university.

“The conversation at Auburn a lot of times revolves around, ‘How long have you been here?’” she said. “It seems like yesterday I would say, ‘Two months,’ and then it was two years and then it was 15 years and now I have a well-established 27-year career at Auburn. Hopefully, I have been a valuable long-term investment for the university.”

A career to remember

Cooper was no stranger to the Auburn community when she began working for the university as an insurance coordinator back in 1997. She grew up in Auburn and went to elementary, middle and high school in the city before graduating with her undergraduate and doctoral degree from the university. After briefly working for a commercial insurance broker in town where she handled the Auburn University account, she began her career on the Plains.

She’s seen a lot of changes — from university presidents and new buildings to a change to a semester academic calendar and the digitization of records and contracts — yet her love for Auburn has remained steadfast.

“It’s a great place to live and work,” Cooper said. “No two days are the same.”

Her team does work that often flies under the radar, such as administration of the university’s risk financing program including property and casualty insurance procurement, management of multiple self-insurance programs, claim management, providing guidance to the campus community on liability issues and recommending best practices to mitigate risk from university activities.

“Research is growing exponentially in terms of volume and complexity and we are often called upon to proactively identify and manage risks associated with the work. We appreciate the opportunity to be involved throughout the research life cycle,” Cooper said. “This allows us to identify risks associated with the research at the onset and recommend strategies and safeguards that minimize risks and maximize a safe and successful outcome.”

Take the 3D printers around campus, for example. Cooper said the health and safety team ensures that there’s proper ventilation in the room where the printer is being stored, the environmental health and safety team looks at how to properly dispose of the waste and the insurance team writes policies for the multi-million-dollar pieces of equipment.


A group of people stand in front of a large white building in Italy.

Cooper, second from left, traveled to Auburn's campus in Ariccia along with a team of Risk Management and Safety and Campus Safety and Security employees to provide educational sessions and evaluate the need for changes or improvements to the campus' existing safety and security measures.

Sometimes, their work takes them off-campus to inspect buildings or sites — even as far as Italy. In 2019, a team of four Risk Management and Safety and Campus Safety and Security employees, including Cooper, surveyed Auburn’s campus in Ariccia’s historical Palazzo Chigi. While there, they worked with the program’s executive director and local program staff, police, fire and mayor to provide educational sessions and evaluate the need for any changes or improvements to the campus’ existing safety and security measures.

When asked what she’s enjoyed about working at Auburn, she’s quick to praise her colleagues at Risk Management and Safety.

“Everybody is interested in doing good work, and nobody needs or feels like they have to be patted on the back for it. It’s truly a work family, we appreciate everybody’s expertise in their subject matter, and we rely on each other tremendously for what they can bring to the table,” Cooper said.

Cooper’s co-workers feel similar about her work and contributions to the university.

“To say I will miss my colleague and friend is an understatement,” said Karen Straub-Stanton, an athletic trainer for the Athletics Department who also works in the areas of insurance broker management, claims monitoring and insurance policy development for Auburn’s athletes.

“I best describe her how you would see a lighthouse or a compass: helping to correct your course, find direction and right your path. It seems I always brought a challenge or crazy request and she never paused, just dove in to help me find and make solutions that protected and made Auburn better.”

As for retirement plans, Cooper said she’s looking forward to doing whatever she wants —traveling with her husband and spending time at their home at Lake Martin.

“I am not coming back TES,” Cooper said, laughing, referring to Auburn’s Temporary Employment Services process that is popular among retirees. Then, after a beat, “I need to retract that, if they needed me to come back or if I got bored, I might consider it.

“I’m a little bit envious of the person that will step into my role because they’re stepping into a wonderful position. They’ll have a great career here, or, if it’s as good as mine was, it will be great.”