Sonia Delbridge & Kristin West: A quarter century of teamwork

By Kimber Williams | Emory Report | Aug. 4, 2014

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Sonia Delbridge (left) and Kristin West work together in Emory’s Office of Research Compliance, after meeting 25 years ago when they worked in the Office of General Counsel. Emory Photo/Video.

Workplace chemistry is a curious thing, rooted in mutual respect and nourished by trust and shared history. Impossible to predict, you simply know it when you experience it.

For 25 years, Sonia Delbridge and Kristin West have enjoyed that kind of chemistry, a professional partnership that has endured through various locations and job titles, through family crises and graduation ceremonies, through office pranks and holiday parties and the daily adventure of hard work.

In August, Delbridge and West plan to celebrate a silver anniversary, of sorts.

The festivities will unfold in Emory's Office of Research Compliance, where West is associate vice president for research administration and director of the Office of Research Compliance, and Delbridge is compliance program administrator.

You can count on cake being served, along with plenty of laughter and a generous helping of fond memories.

For a quarter century, Delbridge and West have worked side-by-side in the same office. And while that office has changed over the years, their stalwart team status has remained happily intact.

There are marriages, they joke, that don't last this long.

Emory Report caught up with the duo to talk about what has kept them working in harmonious tandem for all these years.

Can you talk about your backgrounds and how you came to Emory?

Kris: I'm from Rockville, Maryland. I went to the University of Maryland and came down here and went to law school (Mercer University). In 1989, I was working for the Department of Justice and saw an ad for a job opening in the Office of General Counsel at Emory. I applied and was rejected. But a month later they wrote and said the person they originally wanted didn't take the job, so I should come in for an interview. And so I did. And they hired me.

I was assistant general counsel and worked for Emory General Counsel Joe Crooks. Back then, the office was very small; there were four lawyers for the whole place. I mainly did contracts and real estate and Campus Life. All the land where the Emory Conference Center Hotel is? We put that deal together.

Sonia: I'm originally from Union Springs, Alabama. I left there after high school and lived in New Jersey for 20 years. In 1988 we relocated to Georgia. As I looked for work, I received a call from Emory's HR (Human Resources office) for an interview at the law school. Later, HR sent me to interview for an opening in the General Counsel's office, where I met with Joe Crooks; he had on a seersucker suit and I remember thinking, "Matlock!" (the TV lawyer). After he interviewed me he stood up and gave me a big hug and said, "If you want the job it's yours."

I was the legal secretary and wanted more responsibilities. When I expressed that desire, Kris kind of took me under her wing. She said, "I can show you how to do bankruptcies," and she taught me about bankruptcies and how to review contracts. From there, I eventually went back to school and got my paralegal certificate. We worked in the General Counsel's office together for 13 years.

How did you come to leave the General Counsel's office together?

Kris: The university didn't have a research compliance office at that time, so I was invited to come over and start this office. I asked Sonia, "Do you want to go? It's a new adventure." And she said, "Okay, let's go."

Why was it important to bring Sonia along with you?

Kris: I needed someone who was going to be able to work with me, for one thing (laughs). Really, I've never known anybody more dependable, honest and trustworthy — with an abundance of common sense — than Sonia. I'll tell you how much I trust this lady: When I went to China, and was selling my house, I said, "Listen, I'm going to give you power of attorney and if you need to sign documents while I'm gone, here it is…"

Why was working with Kris a good fit for you, Sonia?

Sonia: When I first went to her about wanting more responsibilities she took the time to listen and became kind of a mentor, helping steer me to where I am today, because she saw that I had ambitions. I try to look at hearts of people. She has a good heart. She's trustworthy, fair and equitable. And she's from a good family (laughs).

Kris: And we know all about each other's families. I know her kids, she knows my kids, I've met her parents, she's met my parents, she came to my daughter's graduation, I went to her grandson's graduation…

Sonia: And my graduation, and my graduation party…

Kris: All that stuff, we're there.

What was it that made you "click" as a team?

Kris: We just totally mesh.

Sonia: I think it's that inner strength and confidence, that inner heart, which says "I care." We have compassion.

Kris: We have complementary strengths and weaknesses…

Sonia: …and there is a respect for each other.

How does your longstanding work relationship enhance the job?

Kris: It's everything. In the research compliance world, we're responsible for working with the researchers and committees that provide direct oversight for animal and human subject research at Emory. All the rules and regulations that go along with using animals in research, having people volunteer to be in clinical trials, using their most personal information and protecting that information, checking to make sure researchers are following all the rules and regulations.

If new laws come out we have to develop policies and processes. That's the serious side of what we do. And working with a good team makes all the difference. The best friends that I've had have been the people I've met here at Emory and the people I work with.

Sonia: As a manager, Kris cares about her staff as individuals. That's why I enjoy coming to work, because I know she appreciates what I do and that's rewarding. And we always have fun. Kris is more than a manager; she is a friend who cares about you in totality.

Have you reached the point where you finish each other's sentences?

Kris: Absolutely! This is how conversations usually go: "Hey Sonia remember that thing we did, maybe three years ago? "Oh yeah, I remember that thing." "You remember where we put it?" "Hold on, I've got it…"

What have you learned from working around each other?

Sonia: To be open-minded, to not be afraid of challenges, to follow your heart, and to value friendships.

Kris: I can tell you exactly: Always remember the underdog, and always think about the other person's side of it. Put yourself in their shoes.