I Spy Someone making a difference.
Linda Lyerly: Teal is in her blood after 20 years at CCUby Mona Prufer
Tuesday, Jan. 4 was the first official day of her retirement after 20 years at Coastal Carolina University, and Linda Lyerly was back on campus, wearing a teal jacket. "I have quite a teal wardrobe by now," says Lyerly, who was once named Most Likely To Wear Teal Every Day at a mock sports awards program.
In December, Lyerly retired as associate athletics director for finance, a position she held for three years. Before that, she served as associate vice president for finance and, prior to that, she was controller of the University for 10 years, charged with supervision of financial accounting and reporting, audit liaison, accounts payable, payroll, tax accounting, university receivables, grants accounting and operational budget. Not bad for a French and history major (University of Tennessee) who did not take any business classes.
Lyerly first began learning about finance through volunteer work she did for the Baha'i Faith Community in Darlington in 1980. That stint led to a position as secretary/bookkeeper for the USDA Summer Food Program for Children."They needed someone to do the books," she says. "I didn't know how, but a local accountant worked with me, and I soon had learned to do payroll."
From there, she went on to work for the Aiken Area Council on Aging as finance director. "I had a baby by then but needed to work. I took the ledgers home every night to study them. It was a wonderful way to learn accounting - by doing the books manually."
To augment her self-education, Lyerly enrolled at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa to earn a master's degree in accountancy; after receiving her degree, she worked for two years in UA's financial services department. (She had earlier earned another master's degree in higher education at Southern Illinois University.)
Lyerly came to the Coastal Carolina campus in 1990 as finance director (and later director) of the Waccamaw Area Agency on Aging, which was housed on campus as part of the Office of Continuing Education under Sally Hare.
"My work with the agency gave me the foundation for understanding CCU and USC financial and purchasing practices," says Lyerly, who was offered the job of controller of the University in 1993, the year Coastal left the University of South Carolina system to become an independent, state supported university.
Then began the complicated process of separating the university's finances from USC’s system.
"I was blessed to be working with a wonderful team, with Stella [Cooper, now assistant to the athletic director] and Sally Horner (who by then was chief financial officer) and President [Ronald] Ingle. Dr. Horner would let you know in a skinny minute if something wasn't what she wanted, but that was okay. I learned quickly that what I first submitted was always a draft, and fine tuning the report was the rest of the story, and the real work.”
Implementation of the administrative software started July 1, 1994, by "going live" with the general ledger and paying bills at CCU (instead of at USC). Payroll went live on Jan. 1, 1995, then student services (registration, bursar's fees) on July 1, and financial aid, which was a huge piece of the puzzle. "It was long hours and exhausting work, but in retrospect, it was so much fun," she says.
During that time, there was "real sense of camaraderie" among CCU staffers as CCU separated from the USC system, she says, and every success (see above) was marked with celebrations that included a boat party on a foggy night on the waterway. "We had to all learn to work closely together because we were implementing ‘real time’ software not used at the time at USC, and system procedures set up in one area, such as the Registrar's office, might have unintended consequences in another area, such as Financial Aid. There was a domino effect," she says.
Horner, who retired in 2007, praised Lyerly's "ethical professionalism and her personal integrity."
"During her years as controller and as associate vice president, she won six national awards on behalf of Coastal Carolina University for quality and clarity of the annual audited financial statements," says Horner. "Only two or three other S.C. public institutions were so honored."
Lyerly has been such a tireless worker with CCU's financial system that on her last day of work, Dec. 20, she was still receiving e-mails from auditors related to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) report to the President. Lauren Barker, accountant/fiscal analyst in athletics, will assume many of her duties, but Lyerly will continue to help out on a volunteer basis with processes such as reconciling athletic ticket sales.
Though she knows she will miss the people at CCU, Linda is looking forward to a slower pace of life, doing "front porch things" in her Conway home. She will continue to care for her 90-year-old mother, who lives with her and husband Neil. They plan to take trips to see family, especially their two sons – Daniel, who lives in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Court, who lives in Jackson, Ohio, with his wife Catherine and their eight-month-old son Caden.
Gardening beckons, or will soon as spring approaches, as does volunteer work with her Baha'i Faith Community, both in Conway and Hemingway. Lyerly will also be doing more reading, with a preference for historical works. She is currently reading "Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Resolution," by Diane McWhorter.
Singing is another passion that's been put on hold lately, but that Lyerly plans to return to, maybe rejoining the Sweet Adelines choral group. (In 2002, she sang with an international Baha'i choir that performed at Carnegie Hall.)
She might not miss working full time, but she worries she'll miss the intellectual stimulation of puzzle-solving with figures, though she most likely will find it elsewhere.
"The reason I like accounting so much," says Lyerly, "is it's like putting a puzzle together, making everything balance, and telling a particular story. It's like hunting for hidden treasure."