Murtaugh: Iowa State will also lose its first lady

Kathy Geoffroy describes her grandchildren. The first lady hopes to have more time to visit them on the West Coast after her husband steps down as president of Iowa State.

Taysha Murtaugh

I arrive at the Knoll on a chilly afternoon, a little more dressed up than I would normally be for a day of classes. Around my neck is a chunky pearl necklace; one of my professors once told me you should always wear pearls to a fancy place like the Knoll.

As we sit down to chat, the first lady compliments me on my beads. After I tell her the reason I wore them, she just laughs and says, “Oh dear, and here I am with just a simple, silver chain!”

The petite woman sits across from me in the elegant dining room on the first floor of the president’s house, which is reserved for university events and dinners. Upstairs, where she and her husband actually live, is a bit more casual and comfortable. Unbeknownst to me and the rest of the student body, her husband will announce his stepping down as ISU president the very next day.

President Gregory Geoffroy won’t be the only one leaving the Knoll, however. His wife, Kathy Geoffroy, will simultaneously step down from her position as first lady.

The title of “first lady” is not one that Mrs. Geoffroy is particularly fond of. She tells me she’d rather avoid the political connotation the word carries and just be known as “Greg’s wife,” or as her kids would call her, “Mom.”

Mrs. Geoffroy is a quiet, humble woman. Her roles, which include her duties as a housewife as well as her obligations as the first lady, often go unnoticed by the student body. Most people don’t ever hear or know anything about Mrs. Geoffroy.

“There’s a reason for that,” she laughed shyly. Despite her timid nature, however, Mrs. Geoffroy said she can become vocal when she needs to, such as when she was raising her children.

Mrs. Geoffroy, then Kathy Carothers, met Mr. Geoffroy at the University of Louisville. He was a senior in a fraternity and she was a freshman pledging with a sorority. It was the first day of the school year. They got to talking at a fraternity mixer, and the rest is history. She said in college, she and “Greg” liked to go to football and basketball games, get pizza and a movie and play miniature golf. They both lived at home and commuted to classes. In fact, the past 10 years have been the only time she and her husband have experienced on-campus living.

After college, Mrs. Geoffroy taught math until she decided to stay at home to raise their four young children. Her patience, probably a remnant of her old teaching days, was evident when she kindly agreed to meet with me a second time because I had accidentally erased a portion of the recording from our first interview.

During the second interview, though, I was now aware of President Geoffroy stepping down, which meant we could discuss it.

“I couldn’t say anything about it [during the first interview],” Mrs. Geoffroy said, explaining that sometimes keeping information confidential is part of the job.

Some other aspects of her position include attending university events and meetings and serving on different committees over the years. She said despite what people may think, she loves going to basketball and football games and would go even if it wasn’t expected of her.

Mrs. Geoffroy is looking forward to the extra time she and her husband will have once he steps down; they plan to spend more time with their children and grandchildren, who all live on the West Coast. She said they’ll be staying in Ames for a while, though, and they will continue to attend university events.

She also looks forward to obtaining a little more privacy. Living in a home that doubles as a university activity center means that people are constantly coming and going. Curious students sometimes stop by thinking the Knoll is a museum. In the wintertime, students sled down the hill; Mrs. Geoffroy likes to watch them from her window upstairs, sometimes bringing them cookies.

Mrs. Geoffroy laughs and says living at the Knoll has been an adjustment. For instance, she waits to do something noisy, like laundry, if a meeting or dinner is going on downstairs.

In her spare time, Mrs. Geoffroy likes to knit, read and exercise. In the summertime she enjoys going for bike rides, and in the wintertime she likes to ski. She and President Geoffroy don’t get much time for dates, she said. Typically, they just like to unwind at home with a Netflix movie.

“Sometimes it’s just nice to know that we’re the only ones in the house,” she said.

If there’s one thing Mrs. Geoffroy would like the student body and the Ames community to know about her, it’s that she and President Geoffroy live a normal, everyday life. She tells me that people are sometimes surprised when they see her at the grocery store, saying that they didn’t expect to see her there. While there is a cook at the Knoll for special events, Mrs. Geoffroy does the cooking on a regular basis.

Although Mrs. Geoffroy is looking forward to the extra time with her grandchildren and husband, she will miss seeing ISU students so much. She loves getting to know the students in the president’s freshman leadership class and the students who work at the Knoll.

The students who know Kathy Geoffroy know her to be very lovely and down-to-earth. When Iowa State loses President Geoffroy in this coming year, we will also lose a woman who has contributed more to our university than many people know — Mrs. Geoffroy included.