Graphic: Tell us about your life together with President Benton pre-Pepperdine.
Debby Benton: At Oklahoma Christian, Andy was hired right away to work as an assistant to the President, so he deferred law school for a year and then ended up going to Oklahoma City University because it offered night classes and was something that we could afford. Then, after law school, he opened a practice and did some land use law, while also advising students that were applying to law school. At that point, someone from Pepperdine came out as we were moving to a firm in Dallas, and they invited us to come out to see Pepperdine. We said, “Oh, you’re wasting your money, we don’t want to live in California, we’ve never been there.” Then, we came out and thought we would stay three years at most. So we came here where Andy was basically doing some land use work as an attorney for the University. And we’ve been here ever since.
G: What do you enjoy about being a representative of the University?
DB: One of the really fun parts of the job has been meeting exciting people. We were very fortunate to get to meet Margaret Thatcher years ago, and I asked her what it was like being in a man’s world. She just said, “Was I?” And I realized that she, as a Chemistry major in college, had always been in a man’s world. I think that’s what made her so courageous. So it’s always fun meeting people like that. But what always thrills me most is working with the students.
G: Speaking of student work, tell us about your recent trip to Fiji for Project Serve.
DB: Fiji was amazing. My friend who started the program there has asked me for years to come and see how great our students are there. Now, I don’t do well with blood, so I didn’t think the medical part would be right for me, but I loved the teaching aspect. We taught about 30 teachers, some of whom had traveled almost two days to be there. I felt badly because we gave each about a 40 pound bag as they left, I probably would have left it on the curb, but they all took them home with them. I’ve just really enjoyed the two Project Serve trips that I’ve gone on, both in the Dominican Republic and Fiji. I’m just inspired by the students. Watching them lead devotionals and give to the people is very impressive.
G: What is your advice to Pepperdine students?
DB: Enjoy. Get to know yourself, find topics that interest you and take classes that spark your interest, even if they’re not in your major. Nothing is set in stone that you are going to do what you’re majoring in — most people don’t. Some of those extra classes may be the ones that feed your soul the most. For instance, I love working with children and I’m glad I studied that, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve enjoyed interior decorating, and I wish I would have taken classes in that.
So just take time to breathe. You’re in Malibu, and you’ll probably never be around so many amazing people again. Get to know different people outside your group and learn their stories. Just enjoy.
G: What’s your favorite kind of music?
DB: I love classic rock ‘n’ roll. My kids call it “elevator music,” but I just like the sweet stuff. One of my favorite songs is Janice Ian’s “Send in the Clowns,” it’s a great song, and anything from Simon and Garfunkel.
G: Do you have a favorite movie?
DB: Oh that’s easy, I’m a southern girl: “Gone With the Wind.” I also love “North by Northwest” and I’m a real sucker for Audrey Hepburn movies. I also collect a lot of old musicals, I even made my children sit and watch them because I love those movies so much.
G: Favorite thing about Pepperdine?
DB: The student hearts. So much of the volunteer work here is student led, so that’s all on you guys. When I was in school, we hung out on the beach or went on vacations with families for spring break, but your heart for helping others is amazing. And that’s one of my very favorite things here at Pepperdine.
G: Tell us about your role here at Pepperdine. What have you done in the past, and what do you hope to accomplish in the future?
DB: I’m currently on three boards. On the arts board, I basically attend meetings. On the athletic board, I’m one of only two women, so we have a lot of authority in planning events for them. I’m also President of the Friends for the Family League, which raises about $100,000 a year for the Center for the Family, an organization that works with families to encourage long-term marriages along with programs like Relationship IQ for Pepperdine students. I really love my work with them. We plan “Savvy Chic” at the Beverly Hills Hotel every fall, which is a luncheon and auction and style show that helps raise money.