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Laurene Sperling
Laurene Sperling Photo by Chris Hildreth

The Blue Devil Questionnaire: Laurene Sperling

A conversation with Laurene Sperling is a mashup of kindness and wisdom and a master class in focus, wrapped elegantly in the kind of authentic warmth that makes you want to share your own stories, just to keep her talking.

Because you know you’re going to be surprised. If you chat long enough, she’s likely to give you a stellar book recommendation, reflecting her desire to share knowledge and also gain some wherever she goes. She’s a good listener and aspires to be, especially if you’re discussing views that differ from her own. Sperling, an education and child health advocate, became chairman of Duke’s Board of Trustees in 2021 after serving on the board since 2010. A 1978 Trinity grad who leads the investment management of a family office enterprise, she’s soft-spoken, an experienced philanthropist, a mother of four and a devoted grandmother of six (five boys and one girl). Sperling, who thrives in nature and likes to encourage, reads her Bible every day and is a committed early-bird who gets her best work done long before daylight.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Definitely my family – having a loving husband and four children with fantastic partners who love one another and are there for each other.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A long walk in nature, preferably a beach, and in good conversation.

What is the trait you like most about yourself?
Curiosity. I’m curious about lots of things. I love to talk to people.

What is the trait you like most in others?
Humility. Trust. And I adore  people who push me to think about things differently – who are honest about their genuine perspectives so I can learn something.

What do you most value in your friends?
I value their honesty and sound advice.

Who is your favorite hero of fiction and why?
Scout Finch from “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I love that she speaks her mind. I love that she was kind of isolated from society – so she could just be who she wanted to be.

Who is your favorite hero of sports or culture?
Coach Jon Scheyer. He stepped into his position replacing an icon, and he did it so graciously and in a way that shows he’s just his own person. I admire him for how gracefully he stepped into that role, his quiet confidence.

What makes you laugh the most?
My grandchildren. They just crack me up. They are always doing something funny or unexpected. Sometimes it’s just their joy at discovering something new.

What is the possession that you most treasure and why?
My parents’ wedding bands that they wore all the time. I have both and keep them on a necklace. Dad’s is gold and looks like a chain. My mom’s is just a simple platinum band.

What is your motto?
“If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll wind up some place else,”  by Yogi Berra. I think a lot about intentionality – whether it’s organizations I’m working with or personal endeavors. I definitely like to have a plan.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I get up really early in the morning. I get so much done between 4:30 a.m. and 6 a.m. I can’t stay awake late at night. So, if I could be as awake as I am in the morning and ready to go after 8 p.m. at night, that would be good.

What is your favorite music?
[Chicago singer/songwriter] John Splithoff. His lyrics are really good, wholesome. He’s just a really nice person who sings from his heart.

What is your favorite go-to snack (and when do you attack it)?
Dark chocolate-covered pretzels. I’ll eat them anytime, but the real attack time is after dinner or late at night. There’s something about the sweet and salty together.

What is your favorite spot on the Duke campus?
It’s definitely the Duke Gardens. I thrive in nature. I like that I can go there any time of year and find something new and beautiful. It’s also a very contemplative space for me. There’s so much to learn there.

What is the best advice you ever received about life – and who gave it?
My dad. He said go get yourself an education because it’s something no one can take away from you. I think about that all the time and how much I’ve benefitted from education and being educated in a well-rounded way. Both my parents were immigrants and education was my dad’s way to come to the U.S. and his way out of persecution.

What is one thing you’d like tell the Duke alums about your role at Duke as a leader of the trustees?
The talent at this university is just astonishing. I’ve been able to see it from an administrative, faculty and student perspective. The team that is leading Duke is so passionate and  committed – just really inspiring. Duke has attracted extraordinary talent. Duke is always getting better so whatever alums know about Duke, I would hope they could come back and see just how much the university continues to push itself … in service of making the world a better place.

P.S.: Her after-dinner secret: Dark chocolate-covered pretzels.