More than 150 friends, family, colleagues and university administrators gathered February 22 in Norman, Okla., for the retirement of University of Oklahoma Parking and Transportation Director Theta Dempsey.
OU President David L. Boren surprised Dempsey and those in attendance with the news of the university’s plans to name its transportation center in the Parking and Transportation Services director’s honor for 26 years of service.
“I came in the back door,” Dempsey says of her start in transportation. “I came to the university to do graduate work. I needed a job and landed one in the Parking and Transportation department.
“Initially I worked exclusively with parking, but by the time I finished my graduate program three years later, I had been promoted to assistant administrator for the department.” She adds, “I became the director in 1995.”
Growth at OU
Dempsey shares how the facilities had been transformed over the years. “We have upgraded our facilities from WWII naval training buildings with no bus yard to speak of and maintenance space in a 70-year-old aircraft hangar to a state-of-the-art facility.”
Dempsey also was an advocate for alternative fuels and achieved an extensive alternative fuels initiative, including cleaner energy options, enhanced operational efficiency and the state-of-the-art maintenance facility.
Kris Glenn, spokesperson for OU Parking and Transportation Services, states, “Her vision, insight and leadership ensured adequate parking resources for an ever-expanding university, and it was those same qualities she employed to oversee the Cleveland Area Rapid Transit system transcend from campus buses 30 years ago to Norman’s public transportation provider today.”
Dempsey also says of her time at OU, “We have also gone from an afterthought with little support from the university administration to a department valued and supported by the administration with a seat at the table.”
Glenn emphasizes that point, “Despite overseeing a department notorious for its love-hate relationship on any college campus, her fair personality made her well-liked.”
As for the future of OU Parking and Transportation, Dempsey says she expects the momentum will continue. “We have goals in place to lead the department into the future — service goals, technology goals and staffing goals.”
As for people coming into the industry, she suggests, “My best advice is to network; find a mentor appropriate for you and don’t waste your time reinventing the wheel.”
At her retirement, Dempsey also received honors from Gov. Brad Henry, OU board of regents and the city of Norman.