This month we caught up with Rosalie Zobel
How did you come to live and work in Brussels?
Well, it was 1988, and I was working in Tokyo for AT&T, when the phone rang in the middle of the night! It was a job offer to come and work in Brussels - in the Telecommunications and Technology Directorate General of the European Commission. When I retired 20 years later, I had climbed the ladder there to be the first female director responsible for breakthrough Research and Development in Information Technology components and systems. I now like to encourage young women to believe that they can enjoy a career in science, technology and engineering. There is nothing more exciting than creating the future.
Your life began in the English countryside of Norfolk, but you then lived and worked in six countries, including the USA. How did all that travel evolve?
My nomadic life began in Norfolk U.K. during WW2, where my father was a weather forecaster for the RAF raids on Germany. We moved often. I was excited when we were posted to the British colony of Aden, now Yemen, in 1957. I resisted returning to boarding school, so my father taught me what he knew. This led to my obtaining a degree in Physics at Nottingham University, where I was one of three girls in a class of one hundred - and then a PhD in Radiation Physics at London University. I always enjoyed being a trailblazer.
You then combined family life with a career in software development?
I discovered more opportunities in software system engineering than in physics, and soon itchy feet took me to the European Centre for Nuclear Research CERN in Geneva, where several Nobel Prize winners worked. We watched Moon Landings together in the cafeteria. My husband’s job also involved moving, so we moved to Munich, where I managed the main computer center of the Max Planck Institutes. Returning to Munich to meet friends and enjoy the wonderful beer gardens is something I will always look forward to.
How did you then end up in America?
My husband’s work took us (now with two children) to the USA. I worked at the AT&T headquarters in New Jersey in their nascent computer business for most of the 1980’s. The confidence and can-do entrepreneurial spirit in America inspired me. This led to my being transferred to AT&T Japan with the children – quite an adventure! We loved the food and the culture in Japan in particular.
You are now a Belgian citizen, firmly planted in Brussels?
Yes, I choose to live in Brussels and am grateful to Belgium for accepting me as a citizen. I love the multicultural environment - people are kind, accepting, and non-judgmental. When travel is allowed (now on hold!), I spend time in London with my daughter and grandchildren. I also visit New York, where my son is a breast cancer surgeon in Elmhurst Hospital. Elmhurst is the hospital where news media described the “perpetual wail of ambulance sirens, and the many freezer trucks in the hospital car park holding an overflow of bodies.” My son did his turn in the ICU, when requested.
You feel strongly about Brexit?
After twenty years in the EC, I became a strong supporter of the European ideal. I was sad and speechless at the Brexit referendum result. Let’s hope the many trade and other Brexit issues get ironed out soon.
What are three things that you love about Brussels?
- Art Nouveau, Art Deco art and architecture. I volunteer at the Horta Museum shop.
- My typical town house and garden, which I could not afford in London or New York.
- The high quality of Belgian cuisine. I can’t wait for restaurants to re-open.
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