Montpelier: James Madison University Magazine

The Rose Family Balancing Act
Montpelier Fall 1999

When you ask people to describe Lin Rose, the answers travel common themes - extremely well organized, a good listener, a person of integrity, someone who asks a lot of questions, someone who sees the big picture as well as the details.

Although some might expect a more flamboyant type in such a public position, the JMU president readily admits, "I'm basically an introvert."

A tinkerer by nature, this introvert has almost a compulsion to find out how and why things work. It's a compulsion that has its advantages for JMU, which Rose, through his grasp for details, has gotten to know from the bottom up as well as from the top down.

This same compulsion shows up in personal interests that tend to confound many people - computers and cars. Whereas some might be tempted to kick the fender or throw the mouse in frustration, Rose isn't daunted.

"Certainly there are things that are beyond a person's grasp to figure out," Rose muses in his characteristically low-key manner. "But I don't think a microcomputer or a British sports car fit into that category."

On any given day, Rose might be found inspecting a computer and projector prior to making a speech - just to be sure the presentation will go off without a hitch. "Some may say that's not good use of the president's time - and perhaps that's so," Rose laughs. "But the president ought to be entitled to a few quirks."

Quirks like an abhorrence to admitting defeat - especially when his opponent is a computer - and a reluctance to call for reinforcements. "I'm fairly stubborn," he admits. "I'll have to waste at least three or four hours before I ask for help."

That determination surfaces at home too - especially as he and his son, John, 15, pour over the final details of their work on John's 1959 Austin Healey bug-eyed Sprite.

This is the second Austin Healey to capture Rose's time and affection. The first was a 1960 Austin Healey 3000 that he bought when he was an undergraduate student at Virginia Tech. Never mind the car was an obvious restoration project (parts of it came packed in a peach basket). Never mind that Rose had no real automotive repair experience. It was love at first sight, fanned by youthful self-confidence and blissful ignorance. Armed with a manual, some tools and a conviction that "this can't be that difficult," Rose pulled the engine and scattered parts and oil across the floor of his parent's garage in Staunton. By summer's end, the car was back together - with only a few nuts and washers to spare. No matter. It ran, Rose's confidence soared, and car and man had cemented a long-term relationship that now extends to John's car.

When Rose talks about Austin Healeys, a boyish grin spreads across his usually thoughtful face. A grin molded by an obvious affection for the cars and tempered by the realities of owning one. "British sports cars - and I suppose you know this only if you've owned one - seem to have a personality."

Personality, yes, and a less than stellar dependability record. "People who own old British sports cars usually carry lots of spare parts with them in the trunk - and lots of tools," Rose laughed. Helping his son with another Austin Healey is like déjà vu for Rose.

Weekends often find father and son working on the finishing touches of the car. Unlike Rose's Austin Healey of college days, John's is not a restoration project. But it did have a number of maintenance projects. Rose approaches this latest automotive challenge with the same methodical, analytical calm in which he approaches his job as JMU's president. "I try to do something myself first so I can show John how and what's involved, show him the principles involved, and then I step back and let him duplicate the same activity."

While the goal is a road-worthy Austin Healey, Rose sees far more long-term benefits than just a set of wheels for his oldest son. He sees important life lessons being passed from father to son. Lessons he learned from a high school friend - a friend who never did any less than his best at whatever he was doing, who never compromised quality for speed or convenience. Lessons that have shaped Rose's approach to his career and to his life. Lessons he hopes his sons will adopt as their own.

Does the interest in British sports cars extend to Rose's youngest son, Scott? Hardly. At 12, Scott claims basketball as his first love. His room at Oakview is plastered with posters of Michael Jordan, and his idea of quality father-son activity is shooting some hoops - or getting great seats at JMU sporting events.

The Rose men (Lin, left; Scott, second from left; and John, right) take a ride on the wild side. It's become a regular activity, taking the family from theme park to theme park. Judith Rose

Or riding roller coasters - a passion that has consumed the Rose men for the last few summers. On the urgings of the two boys, the Rose family has done the roller coaster circuit - from Cedar Point in Ohio to Six Flags over New Jersey to the Virginia standards, Busch Gardens and King's Dominion.

Is this some wild and crazy side to JMU's best-known introvert? Probably more the actions of an accommodating parent. "I'd never ridden a roller coaster until two and a half or three years ago," Rose admits. Now a pro, Rose boards each new ride with nary a twinge of anxiety. Not so with Judith Rose, JMU's first lady.

She watches from the safety of the ground, waves and indulges in her passion for photography by taking pictures of her husband and stepsons as they plummet, twist and twirl through space.

When Rose was named JMU's president last year, both he and his wife were catapulted into a whirlwind existence where the balancing act between serving the university and ensuring time for their blended family, each other and themselves was precarious. Success in this balancing act has required organization and the conviction that family time is not a luxury - it's a necessity.

Admittedly, that can be a challenge when your home is the official university residence and site of so many JMU functions that the calendar blurs into one ongoing reception. During the first year of Rose's presidency, Oakview has hosted more than 1,500 people.

To manage takes teamwork and planning. The Roses regularly meet over coffee and bagels to compare daily planners and schedule time for family. Family also includes Mrs. Rose's two adult sons, Shane Kauffman, who lives in Florida, and Chad Kauffman, an emergency room nurse at Augusta Medical Center, and his wife, Judy, and 18-month-old son, Tyler.

They also have worked hard to make Oakview feel like their home, not just their house. When they first moved into the president's home, the Roses gave the boys their pick of rooms and the leeway to decorate them as they wished.

And while the home is always in a state of ready alert for public functions, the Roses have reserved the downstairs for family space, a refuge from the public eye. Life at Oakview is one of "tradeoffs" for the Rose family. "You have to do a better job of keeping things clean and picked up," Rose admits, but "on the other hand, there are amenities that we wouldn't normally have."

Mrs. Rose takes a more philosophical view of the new family house. What makes a family, she says, "is not so much a function of the house as much as how the family functions."

In many ways, the Roses, as president and first lady of JMU, are a complementary team. Both are organized and detail oriented; yet while he is analytical, she is artistic. While both are fascinated by computers, Mrs. Rose gravitates to the graphic art and animation possibilities.

And their current positions are the latest in a string of jobs they've both held at the university. Mrs. Rose has worked at JMU in a number of areas, including Student Activities and Administration and Finance. Her first job, a three-week temporary position in 1989 conducting a physical inventory of computers on campus, sent her searching through every basement, attic and closet on campus. "It was a great way to learn your way around campus," she recalls, laughing at the great memories.

Her last job included preparing financial presentations for Board of Visitors meetings, including designing all the computer-generated backgrounds and graphics.

That insider experience gives Mrs. Rose a perspective that's invaluable in supporting her husband and in representing the university. It also provides a reality check when it comes to coordinating events or scheduling maintenance at Oakview. "I know a lot of the folks I deal with," Mrs. Rose says, "and really understand what I'm asking of them and how it affects their day, their job."

Mrs. Rose is a people person with a knack for putting her guests immediately at ease. "Would you like to see the house," she asks a first-time visitor, before launching an impromptu tour through rooms adorned with stunning art and classic furniture but softened by family pictures and bountiful cut flowers. Along the way, she pauses, an unabashedly enthusiastic grandmother, to show off the latest pictures of grandson Tyler.

While she's opened the doors of Oakview to the gamut - from the board of visitors to the landscaping crew - her favorite guests are students. "Their enthusiasm is contagious," Mrs. Rose says, a smile lighting her face. "They keep me young."

While both private people excel in their public positions, they both recognize the importance of time to reflect and clear the official business of the university from their minds. "I really have to structure my time," Mrs. Rose admits. "Otherwise I'd end up with no time to myself."

The First Couple enjoys gardening together at Oakview, where Mrs. Rose often can be found in her favorite jeans, working right alongside JMU landscaping crews who are responsible for maintaining the official residence.

Part of that private time is reserved for exercising. She walks to unwind, clear her head and regroup. He runs - for the same reasons.

But, with the demands of the presidency, each one's exercise routine has fallen prey to hectic schedules, and each has vowed to move exercise up their priority list. "I'll try to keep it going this year," Rose promises, "because stopping produced about 20 more pounds. All those university dinners ..." His explanation trails off.

Next to walking and running, the Roses' greatest escape activity probably is gardening. So one day you might find Mrs. Rose, dressed in a flowing gown, hosting a black tie event, and the next you'll find her in her favorite jeans, on her knees digging in the perennial beds bordering Oakview's pool. Although the university landscaping crews are responsible for maintaining the grounds at Oakview, Mrs. Rose graciously explains her presence. "Please don't be insulted," she tells them. "It's not that there's anything wrong with your work. We just want to do some of it ourselves."

All part of the balancing act of two private people in two very public positions.


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