Host Profile: Dolly Duffy ’84
Dolly Duffy ’84 is the executive director of the Notre Dame Alumni Association and associate vice president for University Relations. Since assuming her role in July 2011, she has overseen the daily operations of the Alumni Association and has served as an important conduit between Notre Dame and her alumni, parents, and friends, including as a host for Travelin’ Irish excursions. Duffy has hosted four alumni travel trips, including Changing the Tides of History: Baltic Sea Cruise (2012), Cuba (2014), Mediterranean Crossroads (2016), and Celtic Lands: 75th Anniversary of D-Day Landings (2019).
As executive director of the Alumni Association, you have a unique opportunity to connect with alumni on many different fronts. What makes alumni travel so special?
I think travel provides a really unique way for us to connect with our travelers, our alumni, and friends, and especially for them to connect with each other. It is an experience that is a really deep way to get to know each other and to build lifelong friendships.
You have served as a host four times and were part of the first trip to Cuba in 2014 after President Obama lifted the travel restrictions. What were some of the highlights of that trip?
That trip was really special because we were among the early groups of travelers that went into Cuba under the People-to-People license. It felt like an opportunity to peek behind the curtain of a country being run in a way that is so different from the United States. You could start to see the beginnings of the relaxation of socialism but, when you went a little further, you could see evidence that it was still very much there.
It was a fabulous group of people. We were one busload of people that really bonded, and we got a chance to see the Cuban culture, whether it be at some incredible restaurants (The Cuban food was amazing!) or with music on the streets. We were all so taken by the step back in time with the way the cars looked and with the way some of the areas of the country looked. And it was really great. And you could tell that bringing tourists in was important to them, and we were warmly welcomed.
Do you have a favorite travel story or moment from an ND alumni trip?
Oh, I have a story that I’d love to tell. It was about the trip through the Baltic countries (Changing the Tides of History: Baltic Sea Cruise 2012). We got a chance to actually have our pictures taken with the former head of Poland, Lech Walesa. And on our boat was Nikita Khrushchev’s son, Sergei Khrushchev, who was traveling with his wife on behalf of Brown University, where he was a part-time professor. We got a chance to hear what had happened with the fall of the Soviet Union through his eyes. And, one night, the very small Notre Dame contingent invited him to have cocktails with us. For about an hour, we were able to hear directly through him what it was all about.
What do you consider your primary responsibility as a host to be?
My responsibility is to make sure that everyone who is traveling with us has a really great time and to bring them all together as a unit and as the Notre Dame family. Invariably, what happens is we have other travelers, whether they are from another school or traveling solo, who ask to be part of our contingent because we have so much fun. I think that my role as the Executive Director is to try to find ways to infuse a little bit of Notre Dame into a trip that really has nothing to do with Notre Dame, except that we all have a shared love of the place. Dinners give me an opportunity to talk about the Alumni Association and how we engage our alumni and friends.
What’s one place you’ve never been that you’d like to visit?
Easy. Rome. Oddly enough, I have been to many places all over Italy. And each and every time I say, “Wait, I do not just want to do a quick stop in Rome. I want to do a full trip to Rome.” And, for some reason, I have yet to do that. That is probably number one on my bucket list. And another trip I would like to take is to Alaska. That is the only state that I have never visited.
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly affected our ability to travel internationally since March. What are you most looking forward to when we are able to resume travel safely?
As a total extravert, I can hardly wait to gather with people — whether they be friends, strangers, or parts of the Notre Dame family — and give everyone a great big hug without a mask. I am looking forward to us offering the opportunity for people to travel in a way where they feel comfortable and safe once we come out of this pandemic.
What advice would you offer travelers who are anxious to resume travel with us?
Be patient. We want you to be safe and healthy. But know that we are as excited to resume travel as you are. And we are looking for every day to do that, but we are only going to do it when we feel completely confident that we can provide an experience where everyone stays healthy.
Dolly wants to know: What destinations — both domestic and international — are on your bucket list?
Feel free to send your responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.