Gee spreads WVU message before crowd on Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON – West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee didn’t disappoint more than 300 loyal Mountaineers when he spoke Thursday at the 36th annual WVU Alumni Luncheon on Capitol Hill – providing plenty of deja vu moments as he recalled having first addressed this group more than 30 years ago.

“The first time they hosted it, I was here and it was held in a telephone booth,” he said with a smile.

Calling himself the “two-time winner of the West Virginia University presidency,” Gee said he’s glad to once again be among an amazing faculty and staff as well as “33,000 students who are some of the brightest on the face of the Earth.”

West Virginia’s Congressional delegation, including Sen. Jay Rockefeller, were among those in the luncheon audience at the National Press Club as Gee described his ongoing efforts to visit each of the state’s 55 counties spreading the word about WVU’s importance to all residents.

“I’m visiting every county because I believe WVU is truly every county’s university. And I will work tirelessly to let 1.8 million citizens believe in their heart that our university is the most important thing in their lives,” he said.

WVU was founded in 1867 as a land-grant institution, but today helps fuel the state’s economy and provide jobs as well as educate students, Gee said.

Stops along the way have included plenty of “hidden gems,” including a 4-H camp in Hedgesville, the Mothman statue in Point Pleasant and a gas well near Moundsville – as well as opportunities to meet students he hopes will consider attending college in Morgantown or a satellite campus.

“Here I am, back where I started, with the blessing of being part of an institution at its time of transformation. And I’ve received the warmest possible welcome from all of you Mountaineers,” Gee said.

“During my travels, I’ve seen the challenges, but more importantly I’ve seen the opportunities, and they are extraordinary,” he said.

Gee said he has already visited 35 counties and expects to complete his state tour within the month.

Immediate plans call for visiting Wood, Ritchie and Doddridge counties next week, said Ann Bailey Berry, WVU Extension Service associate director, who has been traveling with Gee.

“He’s talking with people, greeting and really listening to them. It’s been really exciting to see the energy he has to bring West Virginia together,” she said.

Sponsored by the WVU Alumni Association’s National Capital Area Chapter, this year’s event was the largest ever – attracting corporate executives, federal agency partners and representatives from higher education as well as WVU alumni and donors.

It is a primary fundraiser for the John F. Nicholas Jr. National Capital Area Scholarship Fund, which raises money to help Washington metro-area students attend WVU. To date, the chapter has raised more than $150,000 for that purpose and three additional checks were presented during this event.

Gee was named president earlier this year after a nationwide search to replace James Clements, who went to Clemson University in South Carolina. He formerly served as WVU’s president from 1981-1985. Prior to that, he was dean of the WVU College of Law from 1979-1981.

Speaking after the luncheon, Martinsburg businessman James Dailey II, who chaired the state-appointed board of governor members responsible for selecting Gee, said he never doubted – and shares – his vision for moving the university forward.

“Dr. Gee hit the nail on the head with what he wants to do with the university – to make it a bigger and better place for all the citizens of West Virginia,” Dailey said.

Athletic Director Oliver Luck agreed this year’s event was extra-special.

“The National Press Club is such a historic place, especially when you consider all the famous men and women who’ve spoken here over the years, so it is awesome to have Dr. Gee up there in that stratosphere,” he said.

Shepherd University President Dr. Suzanne Shipley said she simply wanted to support Gee and his vision.

“He’s come to us so many times in the Eastern Panhandle that I wanted to come hear him in Washington,” she said.

(Vincent can be contacted at jvincent@journal-news.net)