"Herding Cats" and
Repaying a Debt
Gerry and Bob Virgil
When Chancellor Mark Wrighton approached
Bob Virgil about chairing the effort to plan the University's Sesquicentennial
Celebration, Virgil hesitated only long enough to draw a breath.
"I guess by now I'm somewhat of a known quantity
around Washington University," says Virgil, M.B.A. '60, D.B.A. '67,
a trustee, community leader, former dean of the business school,
and partner in the St. Louis-based investment firm of Edward Jones.
"I agreed to do it because I was asked. I just have an enormous
debt to this institution, and if it thinks I'm the one to do something,
I'll do it. When I talked with Mark, I immediately saw the importance
of the celebration. It seemed to me it would be a fun and exciting
and important thing to work on. It's proven to be just that."
The "debt" that Virgil feels he oweseven
though many at the University would quickly note that it's the University
that owes a debt to him for his years of service and commitmentbegan
in 1958 when he came to campus fresh-faced out of two years in the
U.S. Army, looking to parlay a bachelor's degree and an inkling
of an idea about business into a career.
"Washington University gave me the opportunity
to grow and develop," says Virgil, who majored in English as an
undergraduate at Beloit College in Wisconsin, wanted to be a journalist,
and later served as the sports editor of his Army post's newspaper.
"I went into the Army thinking I wanted to be a newspaper reporter
and during those two years decided that it wasn't a good direction
for me, so I decided to get an M.B.A. I wasn't sure whyit
just felt right to me."
His instincts were obviously correct. During
his time as an M.B.A. student at Washington University, he fell
under the influence of Leslie J. Buchan, an accounting professor
who had been Chancellor Arthur Holly Compton's dean of the faculties
and short-term dean of the business school. Through Buchan's inspiration
Virgil became interested in teaching and eventually began doctoral
study. He began teaching as a doctoral student and was invited to
stay on the faculty after receiving his doctorate. After a number
of years, he felt drawn more to administration than to scholarship.
Again, he was right on target.
"I wasn't great shakes as a scholar, but I seemed
to enjoy the administrative aspects and those challenges," says
Virgil, who did a brief stint as vice chancellor for student affairs
in the mid-'70s; was acting, and then permanent, dean of the business
school from 1977 through 1993; and served as executive vice chancellor
for University relations. "Being the dean was exciting and opened
up opportunities that I never would have imagined. Washington University,
over and over, has provided me with opportunities to grow, develop,
and to do things to expand my horizons."
For the past 10 years, Virgil has been a partner
with Edward Jones, helping guide the investment firm in the area
of management development.
"I never thought that I would leave Washington
University, but the opportunity came along after I signaled that
I wanted to step down as dean," he says. "It's a great organization
with great people. I know I've grown more in the past 10 years than
I would have if I had just stayed at the University, post-dean.
It's been an opportunity to see the other side of the street."
Virgil has experienced many well-deserved successes
during his career and has been recognized for his leadership at
the University and in the community, including receiving the "Search"
Award from the William Greenleaf Eliot Society, the 2001 FOCUS St.
Louis Leadership Award, and an honorary degree from Harris-Stowe
State College. Nevertheless, his focus remains on the debt he feels
"Over the past 40 years or so, the people who
have been my examples are people like Bill Danforth [chancellor
emeritus], Lee Liberman [trustee and community leader], Miller Upton
[former University business dean and former president of Beloit
College], and Ted Wetterau [business leader]," he says. "They are
people who whenever they were asked to do something did it. I feel
the obligation to give back for what St. Louis and Washington University
have done for us."
The "us" for Virgil is himself and his wife of
44 years, Gerry, and the couple's four children, twins Karen (Weaver)
and Kim (Blake), both 43, Kate (Price), 34, and Matthew, 30, as
well as their eight grandchildren.
Virgil has been spearheading the planning for
the Sesquicentennial for the past two years, and he believes that
the many hours of committee meetings and personal visits will pay
off in September when the official celebration year commences. Characteristically,
he's quick to give credit to others.
"I do think we're going to have a very successful
year, a great year, a truly memorable year at the University," says
Virgil, who organized the 1992 Presidential Debate at Washington
University given one week's notice. "I attribute that success to
Mark [Wrighton] because he has taken the Sesquicentennial and its
opportunity so seriously. He's been very committed to it, as have
other key people on his team. Others throughout the University have
seen that commitment and have pitched in.
"I see my job certainly not as directing it or
running it but as sort of 'herding the cats into the gunny sack,'"
he says, grinning. "If there's one thing that I've tried to have
us keep in mind, it is something Bill Danforth said to me. He said
that what would really cap the celebration off would be something
that leaves an enduring mark so that 25 years from now when people
identify something that's valuable and ask where it came from the
answer will be: 'It came from the Sesquicentennial.' I think we're
going to leave a couple of marks like that."
"Bob Virgil creates success. He is imaginative,
clear thinking, focused, and very hard working. Most important,
everyone loves to work with Bob; he is the ideal leader for the
Sesquicentennial Celebration or any other cause."
Chancellor Emeritus William H. Danforth
"Just as Bob Virgil has made an everlasting
mark on Washington University, so has he on Edward Jones. Since
1993, Bob has been an integral part of our management team, and
our organization owes much of its success to his tireless dedication
and hard work. From management training to investment representative
development and international expansion, Bob's innovative approach
has positively impacted virtually every aspect of Edward Jones.
I'm certain that, under Bob's leadership, the University's Sesquicentennial
will be a tremendous success."
Doug Hill, Chief Operating Officer, Edward Jones
"Bob is a true son of Washington University.
I know of no one more committed to anything he undertakes on behalf
of Washington University, beginning with his faculty position, through
his academic roles and his position as a community leader while
a partner with Edward Jones. His commitment is as high today as
it was in 1967 when I met him. I cannot imagine Washington University
without Bob Virgil's name connected with it."
Vice Chancellor Emerita Gloria W. White
"I approached Bob Virgil as my top choice
to chair the Sesquicentennial Commission, and he readily accepted.
He is the best person possible, with great and long University experiences
as a distinguished faculty member, academic leader, and now trustee.
In addition, he is widely respected as a wonderful contributor to
our community. He has been creative, enthusiastic, and dedicated
in planning a meaningful and significant year of activities that
will celebrate our rich history and encourage our progress in the
future. I am very grateful that Bob accepted my challenge to lead
this important effort."
Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton