MY WASHINGTON — Spring 2006
   

 
Honoring the Olin School’s first couple, former students, friends, colleagues, and members of the business community raised more than $1 million in 1993 to establish the Robert and Gerry Virgil Endowed Scholarship, which provides a permanent way to assist both B.S.B.A. and M.B.A. students in the business school. With Gerry and Bob Virgil (center) at Olin’s Scholars in Business dinner on November 6, 2005, are (from left) M.B.A. student Dongho Seo, M.B.A. student Merle Taylor, and B.S.B.A. students Simone Washington, Shandria Wilson, and Yuri Shahmin.

A Truly Extraordinary Couple

Bob and Gerry Virgil take dedication and loyalty to the University to the highest level.

By John W. Hansford

Gerry and Bob. Bob and Gerry.

No matter how you say it, it sounds like one word—one name for an extraordinary couple who have shared the last 45 years of their lives with Washington University and the greater St. Louis community.

Geraldine and Robert L. Virgil—married sweethearts from Beloit College in Wisconsin—came to St. Louis in 1958 after Bob’s release from the Army, so he could enroll in the University’s M.B.A. program. As they were forming what would become a lifelong relationship with the University family, they started building their own family when their twin daughters were born the following year.

Bob went from 1960 M.B.A. graduate to business instructor in 1961, quickly moving up the academic ranks to assistant, then associate, then full professor of accounting, also earning his doctorate in business administration in 1967. He and Gerry had another daughter and a son in the next few years. In the classroom, Bob proved to be articulate, knowledgeable, straightforward, well-prepared, and focused. He challenged his students to do their best, and he seasoned his presentations with humor and common sense. Moving into administration, he became dean of the business school in 1977.

When Bob stepped down as dean in 1993, Howard Wood, B.S.B.A. ’61, then-chair of the Olin School’s Alumni Executive Committee, said, “No single individual that I have ever known got the kinds of accolades from students that Bob did.” Bob was voted “Teacher of the Year” nine times. Former students, friends, colleagues, and members of the business community raised more than $1 million to establish the Robert and Gerry Virgil Endowed Scholarship to honor the Olin School’s first couple, by providing a permanent way to assist both B.S.B.A. and M.B.A. students in the School.

In 2004, further recognizing Gerry’s and Bob’s impact on the School during his 16-year tenure as dean, friends raised $1.5 million to endow the Geraldine J. and Robert L. Virgil Professorship in Accounting and Management, which is held by Mahendra Gupta, the Olin School’s present dean and professor of accounting.

When the professorship was announced, then-dean Stuart Greenbaum said, “Bob Virgil’s contribution to the development of the Olin School was both foundational and monumental,” adding that the progress made in the intervening years was the logical extension of his vision and commitment to the School.

“It was a total surprise to me,” Bob says. “It’s really an honor when your good friends think highly enough of you to do something like this.” Gerry modestly adds, “I was pleased and honored, especially for Bob, because he’s done all the work, and I was happy to be included.”

A few years ago, Bob, a Wisconsin native, admitted he might have been prepared by nature for the task of transforming what was then a little-known business school into one competing in the top ranks of institutions in the United States and the world. “I guess I have a little bit of a knack for what my mother used to call herding cats into a gunnysack,” he said. “In management, everyone’s got ideas, often better than your own, so you’ve got to listen to everyone’s ideas and herd them together.” What he managed to “herd together” at Olin includes increasing the School’s endowment from about $200,000 to more than $75 million, recruiting outstanding faculty, building strong corporate relationships, establishing an international presence, and starting the executive M.B.A. program and initiatives in experiential learning (both now hallmarks of the School).

Both Gerry and Bob are heavily invested in the welfare of the St. Louis area as well. She has been a member of the Philanthropic Educational Organization, a supporter of Kirkwood Meals on Wheels, and a devotee of the Glendale Presbyterian Church. Bob says, “She’s part of the foundation of this little church that has been such an important part of our family’s life.” Bob recently returned to Washington University’s Board of Trustees. He also serves on the board of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and remains active in other organizations, such as the Magic House. He has held many other key community and corporate roles throughout the years.

Over the years, Bob’s strongest commitment has been to Washington University and the Olin School. Besides overseeing the construction of Simon Hall, the first campus building constructed specifically for business education, and the naming of the School for John M. Olin, the business professor and dean also served as vice chancellor for students in 1974–75 and as executive vice chancellor for university relations in 1992–93. He chaired the Faculty Senate Council and several search committees for key administrative posts. He also chaired a consortium of business schools seeking to increase minority enrollment in M.B.A. programs.

When he left the University in 1993 to become a general principal in charge of management development at the Edward Jones brokerage firm, he took his sense of commitment and his work ethic with him. When he retired at the end of 2005 after 12 1/2 years, the firm had more than tripled in size, with more than 9,000 offices in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. His University service didn’t stop when he left campus. He is currently the William Greenleaf Eliot Society’s president and a recent recipient of its “Search” Award. Asked three years ago by Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton to chair the University’s Sesquicentennial Commission, he enthusiastically accepted and kept the yearlong celebration on track despite personal health problems at the time.

Besides the scholarship and professorship that honor them, Gerry and Bob shared the Olin School Dean’s Medal in 1996. Bob received a Distinguished Business Alumni Award in 2004. Bob also has received a Distinguished Alumni Citation (1981) from Beloit College, the Distinguished Service to Education Award (1996) from Harris Stowe State College, and other tributes, including the FOCUS St. Louis Award.

At Bob’s farewell dinner in 1993, then-Chancellor William H. Danforth said he’d always thought of Bob as “the business school’s pied piper, for his ability to rally friends and colleagues and students together for the School. He’s been a model of what a great University citizen should be. He’s been one of the treasures of the University and has left a legacy of one of the great business schools of the nation.”

Gerry was always a full partner with Bob in winning friends for the School, and that made all subsequent progress possible. No wonder the University’s community service award is named for its first recipients: the Gerry and Bob Virgil Ethic of Service Award. No matter how you say it, Gerry and Bob, or Bob and Gerry, it’s one word, one name for a truly extraordinary couple.