Shared Strengths

By: Jenny O'Grady
Oct 4, 2017

(Two women pose with city background)
Carol Anne Huff ’93, economics, and Julie A. Gillespie ’93, economics

On a rainy day in Chicago, the sisters cross town to meet up for lunch. They greet each other, laughing, and proceed to order their food with similar cadence and tastes. When the plates come, they split the dishes – an octopus salad, a crab cake – with the precision that comes from a lifetime of practice and shared biology.

Let’s get the obvious points about Carol Anne Huff and Julie A. Gillespie (both formerly Sennello) out of the way. Yes, they are identical twins. Yes, they often finish each other’s sentences. They’re also both fiercely smart women who motivate each other in everything from their careers to triathlon training.

“We are really close friends, so it’s always great to be together,” says Gillespie, as Huff nods in agreement.

The sisters made it into the local paper when they graduated first at the top of their class at Bel Air High School in 1989, and then again as co-valedictorians of UMBC’s class of 1993. They followed their Retriever years by attending Duke together, both earning law degrees, and then moving to Chicago – where they spent their earliest years – to lay down permanent roots and pursue their careers.

Today, both work as transactional lawyers in firms across the Chicago River from each other – Huff as a partner in the Capital Markets group at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, and Gillespie as a partner in the Securitization group at Mayer Brown – helping clients such as banks, private equity funds, and other institutions issuing securities and completing deals.

Coming out of high school, the sisters had a world of options ahead of them. UMBC offered them full scholarships and full room and board, a package too attractive to ignore, they said.

“I do think it would have been strange to go to separate colleges,” says Gillespie. The idea of living in a new place excited them, so they began their freshman year living apart – “an experiment,” they called it. By sophomore year, they were ready to room together again.

Together, they joined Phi Sigma Sigma, and participated in various student organizations, but for the most part, they studied. As emeritus economics professor Chuck Peake told the Baltimore Sun at their graduation, “They’re quiet and modest, self-confident but not at all flashy, and any time I ask a question, they know what’s going on.”

The work paid off.

“I feel like we learned a lot at UMBC. We crammed a lot into our four years,” says Huff. “Everyone was very good to us. I felt very at home there, and that people were very interested and encouraging about what we were doing.”

The confidence Peake mentioned shines through as they talk over lunch – as does the support system they’ve created for themselves over the years. Both mothers, they share the ups and downs of parenting while living blocks away from each other. They compare reading lists – Gillespie leaning toward science fiction, Huff more to fantasy.

They even talked themselves into training for a triathlon together. Which begs the question: As supportive as they are of each other, are they also secretly competitive?

“I don’t think I am,” says Huff, though her smile gives her away.

“A little bit,” chimes in Gillespie. “I think we’re competitive with ourselves.”

— Jenny O’Grady

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