Chrisoula Falagaris: Keeping us secure
"I was a psychology major, wanting to be a radio broadcaster and I ended up here," says Chrisoula -- better known as Chris -- Falagaris gesturing to her small and sparsely decorated office in the Ferrier building.
But "here," as it turns out, is where Falagaris wants to be, even if it means being woken frequently in the middle of the night.
Falagaris is second in command of Security and Parking Services and if there's a theft at McGill in the middle of the night or if a security guard needs to know if someone has clearance for entry into a particular building, she gets the call. "I'm on call 24 hours a day. That's why I look the way I do," she says with a chuckle.
It's been 10 years now since that fateful day when Falagaris fell into her unexpected line of work. During the summer of '88, the then Calgarian was in Montreal, visiting relatives, when she decided to look for a summer job. The agent at the unemployment insurance office told her to try upstairs where a security agency was hiring.
"'Me? Security? I don't think so,'" she remembers thinking to herself. Still, given the fact that she had no French and few connections, Falgaris decided that working as a security guard might be okay, at least temporarily. It helped that the job was at McGill, a university she grew to like from time spent helping a cousin with a research project.
Ten months later, Falagaris was offered the position of supervisor, though, with what seems to be characteristic modesty, she's still not sure why. Again, she was ambivalent about the offer. "I wanted to go back to school," she recalls. But she accepted the promotion and has no regrets. Why? Because this is work "with and for people," says Falagaris. "Here I'm able to provide assistance to people in need; I feel needed here."
Assistance comes in many forms -- giving advice regarding an alarm system gone awry, interviewing a student being stalked, asking that a phone call be traced, notifying the University community about thefts in the library -- much of it given over the phone, to which the regular prrrrring in her office attests. Just now, one of the campus's 70 Pinkerton security guards needs advice: Someone has been harassing members of the University's administration.
"Is she there now? … Find out if she's the person suspected and, if so, ask her to leave. If she doesn't, call the police," Falagaris says with calm authority.
At times, Falagaris has had to fight to have her authority accepted. Only 10% of the University's security guards are female. "Some men have responded badly," she says. "But I handle myself okay."
Steve Paquin, manager of Security and Parking Services and Falagaris's boss for the past four years, concurs and believes that being female is an asset to her position. Any cases involving women being threatened, harassed over the phone, stalked, etc. he directs to his co-worker. "She's very respectful of the complainant and has a great deal of compassion."
Paquin is impressed by his 35-year-old colleague's capacity for accepting responsibility such as she demonstrated during last January's ice storm when he was stranded at his home 100 kilometres from Montreal. It was Falagaris who, in conference by phone with Paquin, coordinated the security aspects of the shut-down campus. "She has good potential for taking decisions and action. She doesn't hesitate in my absence."
Hers is a job that frequently requires unpaid hours in overtime and a high resistance to stress. But then, Falagaris calls herself a "type A personality," saying that she can live with a certain degree of stress.
Still, everyone needs to unwind. Falagaris does it by walking the five kilometres to and from her Outremont home. Other times, the Greek music buff will jump in her car, turn on her tape player, take in the rich voice of singer Alkistis Protopsalti, drive to Pointe Claire and treat herself to a shopping spree at her favourite book store. And there's always the Greek-language radio show she has produced for Radio-Centreville every Friday for the past eight years.
Given the highly human aspect of supervising campus security and Falagaris's outside interests, perhaps she's not that far from her original aspiration, after all. Returning to study remains an interest, but it would be part-time, she emphasizes. "I like what I do."