Louise Dudley: Shooting from the hip. Yeah, right.

She makes being in the hot seat look so easy. Always poised, always well-spoken, Louise Dudley has calmly handled the press during UVA's worst calamities over the past 11 years.

Now that she's retiring on December 31, the words "UVA spokesperson" won't, for the first time in years, automatically precede or follow her name.

Why retire now? "When you start getting letters from Social Security, it raises the question," she explains.

While she loves her job, Dudley says she wants to do more of the things that have been squeezed by her demanding, high-profile position. Her former doctor wrote a book called The Third Third, which says that age 60 isn't the end of the line, but the beginning of the third third of life. Dudley, who took up running at 60, takes that message to heart.

Since she first came to work at the university in 1964, Dudley has observed a huge change in the nature of press relations.

"There was no Virginia Freedom of Information Act then," she says. "Board of Visitors' meetings were closed, and documents were not considered public. That was all before Watergate."

As a writer in the news department, she'd type up press releases using carbon copies. "We'd mark it a.m. or p.m. because there were still afternoon papers. And they'd publish it as written. It was a different world."

Dudley, who is a regular on TV, offers this tip for any newcomer finding a camera in his or her face: "The TV crew is not interested in having people look bad. If you mess up, say, 'Stop, I used the wrong word. Let's start over.'" Who knew?

When a pavilion balcony collapsed at graduation ceremonies in 1997, Dudley was there along with 25,000 other people and the press. She briefed reporters as information became known and held press conferences, remaining unflappable throughout.

The most difficult event she's dealt with was the baby switch at the UVA Medical Center. "That was such a hard situation," she says. "If we make a mistake, we try to fix it. There was no good solution to that one."

Her favorite UVA scandal? "The time when the fraternities had just started dry rush. One got the creative idea to have strippers and a Washington Post reporter was there."

Age: 63 next month.

What brought you here? Both times– 1964 and 1989– my husband's study and work at the law school.

What's worst about living here? Superlatives are too hard. That said, brick sidewalks.

Favorite hangout? The wooded pavilion gardens– or anywhere my grandchildren are.

Most overrated virtue? Gravity.

What would people be surprised to know about you? My silly streak.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I'd be a better correspondent.

What accomplishment are you proudest of? Recently, dropping 17 minutes the second time I ran the 10 Miler.

What do people find most annoying about you? I proofread everything, even restaurant menus.

Whom do you admire? Working couples with young children.

Favorite book? Giants in the Earth by O.E. Rolvaag.

What subject causes you to rant? I'm not really a ranter.

What thrills you about life in the 21st century? The Internet.

What creeps you out about life in the 21st century? Cookies– the Internet kind.

What do you drive? 1997 Volvo.

What's in your car CD player right now? Nothing. I listen to the radio.

What's your next journey? To Florida, without my laptop.

What's the most trouble you've ever gotten in? I was spanked just once: for stepping off the curb when a car was coming.

What do you regret? Losing touch with once-close friends.

Favorite comfort food? Homemade lentil soup.

What's always in your refrigerator? Cottage cheese and V-8. Pour a little juice on the cottage cheese; it's good!

Must-see TV? Not much. Jeopardy and the Redskins most often.

Favorite cartoon? "For Better or For Worse."

Describe a perfect day. A book, a beach, 80 degrees (air and water), no reason to wear a watch.

Walter Mitty fantasy? N.A.

Who'd play you in the movie? Liza Minelli. (I used to have black hair.)

Most embarrassing moment? Learning the hard way that lentil soup isn't the recommended pre-race meal.

Best advice you ever got? Think about things from the other person's point of view.

Favorite bumper sticker? A Smart Vote.