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Laurie Burns McRobbie, center left, visits with, from left, Annie McAlexander, Anita Cast and Grace McAlexander on Wednesday.

‘Looking outside our borders'

IU's first lady welcoming global outlook

The wife of Indiana University President Michael McRobbie spoke Wednesday at “Colloquium for Women – The Fort Wayne Connection” at the downtown Allen County Public Library.

Laurie Burns McRobbie has been Indiana University’s first lady for less than a year.

Hardest part of the job?

The parties.

Which is to say, all the parties, socials, luncheons, meetings and conferences she is expected to attend on a weekly basis.

“It’s surprising how exhausting a constant round of social events can be,” she said in an interview.

McRobbie was in town Wednesday for “Colloquium for Women – The Fort Wayne Connection,” an Indiana University-sponsored event at the downtown Allen County Public Library.

During the gathering, she spoke mostly about her husband’s international initiatives for the university.

IU President Michael McRobbie wants to expand “study abroad” opportunities for students, establish more affiliations between the university and international educational institutions, create more international research opportunities for faculty members, and increase outreach and service to other countries, the first lady said.

McRobbie said these initiatives are a direct result of her husband’s Australian upbringing.

Michael McRobbie came to the states with an outsider’s view of the country and of America’s educational system and that has made him something of a visionary, she said.

“(Australia) is outwardly facing in a way the U.S. hasn’t had to be,” Laurie McRobbie said.

With the globalization of business and technology, the benefits of “looking outside our borders to the wider world” at this juncture in the university’s history, not to mention this nation’s history, have become undeniable, she said.

McRobbie met her future husband in 2000 when both were married to other people.

She was in Ann Arbor, Mich., at the start of this decade working on Internet2, a project to create the next generation of the Internet.

Indiana University has been a strong supporter of this project since the late ’90s, and Michael McRobbie, as vice president for information technology, was spearheading this support.

A collaboration turned into a friendship when both their spouses were diagnosed with brain tumors.

“We would exchange treatment information on the Internet,” she said.

After both spouses passed away, a certain inevitability became apparent, she said. “We figured that opportunities to be happy don’t come along all that often in life. When they do, you have to take advantage of them.”

Michael McRobbie proposed to her in Venice, Italy, while the pair were on a trip related to the completion of an IU exhibit of New Testament works by 18th-century Venetian draftsman Domenico Tiepolo.

She said she knew what was coming.

“I mean, it’s Venice, right?” she said.

The union meant a blending of family reminiscent of a certain classic sitcom: three kids from one marriage and three from the other’s.

McRobbie said this was surprisingly uneventful.

“The biological siblings actually have a more contentious relationship,” she said. “Every day – well, not quite every day – we feel very fortunate.”

For a while, McRobbie continued to work on Internet2, commuting from Bloomington to Ann Arbor several times a week.

She gave this up when her husband was named IU president and, ironically, this has meant they actually see more of each other despite their hectic schedules.

“In a sense, we work together now,” she said. “We’re at the same events. We share the same experiences. We have the same concerns, interests and causes. And this has been a wonderful aspect.”