President Davie Jane Gilmour addresses incoming students at UPMC Field during her final convocation at the college’s helm.

Curtain Call

As President Davie Jane Gilmour prepares to retire in June 2022, colleagues applaud her 45 years of service.

by Tom Wilson, writer/editor-PCToday

Published Monday, March 7, 2022

It’s a sliver in a decades-long career, fragmentary moments from the scores of graduations over which Davie Jane Gilmour has presided. Yet, on the eve of her retirement, they stand out in the blurry parade of capped-and-gowned superstars in bloom. 

“At some colleges and universities,” she begins, a reverent hush overspreading the Community Arts Center crowd.

We all make a difference.

“This is where the president or the marshal or the provost would say, 'In order to respect the dignity of our ceremony, please silence your cellphones, put them away and behave yourselves,’” she continues. “But this is Penn College. And we’re a college of technology.”

With that, Gilmour pulls out a smartphone, tacit permission for the spontaneously smiling audience to do the same. 

“I'm going to take the first picture,” declares this sudden co-conspirator, whose cell-flash bursts from the podium. “And second of all, keep yours out. Capture the moments you want to capture during your commencement ceremony.”
 

Gilmour takes the first photo of the ceremony during commencement, encouraging audience members to capture their own memories.

Gilmour takes the first photo of the ceremony during commencement, encouraging audience members to capture their own memories.

A guaranteed smile and an instant icebreaker, warming up the murmuring assembly and putting everyone at ease with the promise that the proceedings, however imbued with the customary pomp and circumstance, are ones in which student achievement can be happily and unstuffily celebrated.

While delivered casually and in good humor, it is not a stand-up comic’s throwaway gag. In no small measure, it sums up Gilmour’s leadership qualities – qualities that are a constant amid cyclical fashion changes in clothing, hair and eyewear; standards encapsulated in her oft-repeated watchwords, “People make the difference.”
 

Hands-on president:

As president, Gilmour has:

  • Driven a car through a ribbon to dedicate a new lab
  • Ridden in a “blue move-in bin” with the wrestling team’s “perfect push”
  • Directed traffic on new student move-in day. “You learn a great deal!”

A hands-on president

She has been Pennsylvania College of Technology’s president since 1998, willing to take part wherever and whenever and however students are involved.

“Connecting with a student is priceless, and there are so many little and big connections,” Gilmour says. “I have had students write to me and remind me of a 10-minute chat that made a difference for them. I watched a student from my First Year Experience class walk across the commencement stage and well up with tears; my thought was, ‘Maybe I had a tiny piece of that.’ Or the big hug of a returning alum at the athletic field who boasted about his success compared to his high school friends.

“We all make a difference.”

Ethan M. McKenzie, alumnus and college relations fellow, former Student Government Association president – and a law school-bound devotee of Ralph Waldo Emerson – treasures the connection he forged as an undergrad, however tentatively and belatedly it began.

“The way she eschewed the glorious spotlight, opting instead to work behind the scenes to focus attention on students, was admirable yet unusual – especially in an era when everyone and everything seems accessible at the tap of a finger,” says McKenzie, who graduated in 2021 with a degree in software development and information management. “For many students, our president lived in our imaginations as a benevolent enigma.”

She was painted in broad strokes, he acknowledges: a glimpse of her at a campus event here, abridged remarks published there. But the fine contours remained hazy.

“While we admired her steady leadership from afar, it was only after stepping closer that I came to fully appreciate the strength of her character, the depth of her dedication, the luminance of her light,” adds McKenzie, who briefed the president monthly on organizational developments after he was elected to lead SGA. 

“Owing partially to my deep respect for her and partially to my anxious disposition, I often joined these meetings a shaking, nervous mess,” he recounts. “Despite my sometimes-disheveled appearance and sometimes-jumbled sentences, she offered sincere kindness and respect, considered even my most trifling updates and questions with deep thoughtfulness, and treated me always as a peer and never anything less.”

Yes, people make the difference.

It has been Gilmour’s credo since she got word of her selection, ideas sparking as fast as her sprint to the Thompson Professional Development Center for official confirmation.

Gilmour directs traffic on move-in day, 2019.

Gilmour directs traffic on move-in day, 2019.

What happened in 1977?
  • The first “Star Wars” film (Episode IV) opens.
  • The first Apple II computers go on sale: base price $1,298 (up to $2,638, depending on installed memory).
  • “Roots” mini-series airs on television.
  • Elvis Presley dies.
  • NASA’s space shuttle takes its first test flight.
  • Average annual income is $15,000.
  • A gallon of gas costs 65 cents.
  • The Atari 2600, the first major at-home video game console, is released in North America and sells for $199.
  • Davie Jane Gilmour is hired as an instructor for the college’s dental hygiene program.

The co-worker who delivered that news? The same man who hired Gilmour as the college’s first dental hygiene instructor for a brand-new program launched in 1977: longtime faculty member Robert G. Bowers – an emeritus professor of mathematics and recipient of the 2007 Veronica M. Muzic Master Teacher Award.

Bowers was a member of that 20th century Presidential Search Committee, which worked with consultants to identify and vet 16 “well-qualified” final candidates from across the country. The group was narrowed to eight for comprehensive on-campus activities and discussions, and ultimate committee interviews in Harrisburg on April 14-15, 1998.

“Of course, Davie was very well-prepared and articulate as we asked prepared and unprepared questions along with other exploration,” he recounts. “Her analytical mind and her creative thinking skills were on display. Her enthusiasm for her Penn College work and positions held could not be missed.”

Although certain that it was a stressful 90 minutes for Gilmour, Bowers says she honestly presented herself – demonstrating her beliefs and priorities, and emerging as a very viable candidate.

“While positively biased as a friend and colleague, I believe I was able to objectively compare and judge each of the finalists,” he asserts. “However, Davie possessed something that no other candidate could offer: 21 years of supervisory experience, growing responsibilities and a list of substantial accomplishments, from beginning instructor to interim president.”

On the morning of May 4, the committee met for the last time and unanimously recommended to the Penn College Board of Directors that Gilmour be the new president. Robert E. Dunham (who chaired the committee and the Board of Directors) asked Bowers to fetch Gilmour from her office to come to the afternoon board meeting, which was already in session in the PDC.

“I remember this joyous task as if it were yesterday,” Bowers says. “I was never again so excited to deliver good news as on that sunny day in May. Davie was thrilled. As we walked to the board meeting, already she was enthusiastically talking about the future of Penn College.

“I certainly believed choosing Davie was the absolute correct decision; 23 years later, my belief has been validated.”

Dunham, appointed to the board five years before assuming the chair in 1997, readily recognized Gilmour as the ideal person to chart a much-needed recalibration of Penn College.

Gilmour, left, in the Dental Hygiene Lab, 1985.

Gilmour, left, in the Dental Hygiene Lab, 1985.

“I watched it try to develop as a college of technology. It did a pretty good job of improving itself as a community college but lacked the leadership and vision to become what it is today,” he says, assessing the institution through 1992 eyes. “The relationship with Penn State was misinterpreted and tenuous. The college seemed willing to continue offering associate degrees and certificates and remain ‘independent,’ even at the risk of severing its ties to Penn State.”

When selected to lead the board, Dunham says, he thought it was time to seek a new direction, to clarify the relationship between Penn College and Penn State for both parties, and to build academic programs that had national visibility. 

“New leadership was required, and Davie Gilmour was the perfect choice,” he says. “She had strong academic credentials, natural leadership skills that understood the importance of effective communication, a very good knowledge of the college and the local community, a desire to serve students, and did not have an autocratic leadership style.”

His job was essentially threefold, he explains: Counteract falsehoods and rumors, and try to get the community to better understand Penn State; help mentor a new president; and keep an appropriate distance between Penn College and the university. 

“Davie’s job was to listen to the college community, develop a more collegial style with faculty and begin to think about better academic programs with a strong emphasis on students,” adds Dunham, who retired in 1998 from Penn State as senior vice president. “We both took our jobs seriously and spent many hours together. We even took the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory so that we could understand how to better work with each other.”

Another simpatico companion on that presidential path is state Sen. Gene Yaw, who has served the college since 1984, first as general counsel, then as a member of the Board of Directors from 2009 onward.

“To work with one person in virtually the same setting for that long is pretty unique,” says Yaw, who was appointed board chair in 2013. “In all those years – and this may be even more unusual – we’ve always worked together. Not just side-by-side, but together, in the best interests of Pennsylvania College of Technology.”

Cited as his most satisfying institutional outcomes are the development of academic programs that are responsive to the needs of industry and the community, coupled with the facilities that support them.

“Every building that’s risen on that campus – from back when the railroad ran across Susquehanna Street to today – is something to be proud of,” Yaw remarks. “There’s an old saying: ‘Proper planning prevents poor performance.’ Having the foresight to actually build something, to further a true campus environment, epitomizes Davie’s triumph.”

That partnership has flowed into his personal life, too. Gilmour is godmother to Yaw’s daughter, a former teacher now practicing as a higher-education attorney in Kansas City, Missouri, and has fulfilled “everything you think of when you think of a godparent.”

“Mackenzie has always looked to her for advice, from childhood and all through college,” he says. “They visit every time she comes home. I’m sure talking to Davie has had some impact on our daughter’s choice of career.”

The senator welcomes the opportunity to assist Penn College’s new president, providing continuity to the institution through ongoing board service.

“This has been a once-in-a-lifetime set of circumstances that I was fortunate to have experienced and participated in,” he says, allowing that the next president, Michael J. Reed, will likewise put a distinctive stamp on his administration. “I don’t believe we should ever try to clone Davie Jane Gilmour.”

Gilmour takes the podium at a 2004 city press conference announcing the addition of a Fairfield Inn & Suites across Maynard Street from main campus.

Gilmour takes the podium at a 2004 city press conference announcing the addition of a Fairfield Inn & Suites across Maynard Street from main campus.

Quotes She'd Like to Share

Don’t believe the first thing you hear.”

“People make the difference.”

An open-door president

As many can attest, she’s been accessible to anyone with a question, dilemma or idea.

“Though not surprising, I came to revere how substantive a role Dr. Gilmour played in the institution,” McKenzie says. “‘Be and not seem,’ Emerson advises, and Dr. Gilmour demonstrates. While some presidents are symbolic figureheads, she had no time for mere appearances; she was all substance. Intimately aware of and involved in all aspects of campus life, she could answer even my most obscure questions immediately and completely. Were I to mention an initiative in development, she could immediately provide cogent, invaluable advice to steer it to reality.”

Despite countless competing obligations, he adds, students always came first for this president.

“Every request I sent for her appearance at, or support of, a student government event was met with unhesitating acceptance. Following a semester-long student-led advocacy campaign, she even approved a significant proposal for changes to campus housing that we submitted to her administration. The college’s stated value of being a ‘student-centered institution’ lived vividly in her leadership.”

Perhaps no one understands that more than front-line personnel, the gatekeeper seated just a whisper away.

“From day one in the President’s Office, she made it quite clear that she would have an open-door policy. No problem was ever inconsequential to her,” says Valerie A. Baier, coordinator of president’s office operations. “She is here for everyone. It is always amusing to me when people have that ‘deer in the headlights look’ when they need to come up here or work on our floor. We are normal people just like them!”

The Penn College alumna (’87, secretarial office administration) has known Gilmour for about 35 years, since Baier was a secretary in the former School of Business & Computer Technologies and the now-president was director of the Health Science Division.

“I remember walking into the school office, and she looked at me and said, ‘I love that coat,’” Baier says. “I knew then we would get along famously! We both love shoes; some may say we have a shoe obsession. Over the years, we have analyzed the perfect pants, jeans, sweaters, coats, etc. We have, at times, shown up in the same outfit!”

The college’s 2017 float entry in the city’s Grand Slam Parade provides a photo opportunity with the Wildcat.

The college’s 2017 float entry in the city’s Grand Slam Parade provides a photo opportunity with the Wildcat.

Why She'll Always be a Wildcat

Bright blue and gray are two of my favorite colors.”

“I’m one of the few people who have the alma mater memorized.”

A first-name-only president

Relinquishing formality for friendliness, Gilmour believes calling her “Davie” carries far more affection than offense.

Such has been the case since the beginning of her time at Penn College, when Bowers (who then served as division director for math, science and allied health) made what he later characterized as the “best decision I ever made for the successful long-term future of Penn College.”

During Gilmour’s initial year of teaching, he says, “We talked a lot about her frustration with inadequate facilities, instructional support and her continuing quest to provide the highest quality of learning experiences leading to student success. Seeing Davie’s strong commitment to her students and observing her own transition to instructional excellence, I quickly knew we had hired a ‘star.’ I did not know how many additional facets of that star would emerge during her 45 years at Penn College.”

And not only at the college.

Strengthening the institution’s reputation in the global stratosphere, Gilmour was the first woman to chair the Little League Baseball International Board of Directors in its 74-year history, amplifying a connection between two Williamsport-born phenomena that dates to students’ earth-moving work to build Little League’s South Williamsport complex in the late 1950s.

“Of course, Davie got that position due to her leadership capabilities, not because of gender,” affirms Stephen D. Keener, president/CEO of Little League International. “And there’s no question that, during her tenure, she significantly elevated the organization’s status in the eyes of the world. We couldn’t be more fortunate.”

The fruits of that collaboration include the 2009 birth of a pre-World Series campus cookout for all of the teams, annually attended by whichever Major League Baseball legend is headlining the Grand Slam Parade that forms on the northern fringe of campus. In 2014, The Gallery at Penn College and First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania hosted artist Charles Fazzino, who worked with fifth-grade students in creating artwork to officially commemorate Little League’s 75th anniversary.

“And most recently, because we do have such a good relationship, Penn College was approached when our business was severely impacted by the pandemic,” Keener relates. “Having to minimize expenses, we were without food-service operations for the series.”

Professional staff from the college’s Le Jeune Chef Restaurant – and a mustered army of baking, pastry and culinary arts students – prepared thousands of breakfasts, lunches and dinners for players and coaches near their fields of play.

With meals from an award-winning, fine-dining restaurant, Keener says, one can easily imagine the unanimous response when he asked, “How is the food?”

His relationship with Gilmour has grown from a business alliance to a cherished friendship, and occasioned one of Keener’s favorite moments. In 2013, he reunited with another longtime friend – the late Tom Seaver – when the legendary New York Mets hurler (and celebrated vintner upon retirement) threw the ceremonial first pitch at the inaugural Little League Baseball Intermediate Division World Series in Livermore, California.

“Davie and I shared so many memorable days in her role as chair, but that one may top the list,” Keener recounts. “Just watching Tom Seaver engage her for a couple of hours; seeing her talk for two or three hours with a Hall of Famer about wine and baseball. It was a reflection of all her good work, seeing the value in developing and enhancing relationships.”

Gilmour joins members of the resident assistant staff and wrestling team, all part of the volunteer crew helping students to move in, in August 2019.

Gilmour joins members of the resident assistant staff and wrestling team, all part of the volunteer crew helping students to move in, in August 2019.

A civic-minded president

Gilmour has restored – professionally, purposefully and personally – a sense of community on and off campus. She has served a number of boards in addition to Little League, including Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce, UPMC Susquehanna and the First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania.

“Her experience and professionalism are frequently called upon by community leaders,” notes William J. Martin, whose dedicated service to the college includes a transformative period as senior vice president. “The same can also be said for her stature in the higher-education community. As she approaches retirement, Davie can certainly look back on a career marked by significant accomplishments at the college, in the community and in higher education.”

Jennifer D. Wilson, president/CEO of the First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania, credits Gilmour with favorably changing the landscape – well beyond the college’s boundary lines.

“She formed stronger relationships with her peers at Lycoming College to create a partnership, not just for the Community Arts Center but for the City of Williamsport, which highlights the positive economic effect of our ‘college town,’” she says. “Countless nonprofits have benefited from her leadership, impeccable organizational skills and drive for success.

“While a realist, she believes that anything is possible, and she has the unique ability to make others find that same belief in themselves and in their organizations.”

At FCFP, Gilmour has chaired the board of directors, was the first founding member of the Pearls with Passion Fund (which, since inception, has inspired 275 additional women to participate), and served on the committee that reimagined and transformed the former Ross Club into the FCFP Philanthropy Center.

Gilmour is officially installed as president during a 1998 convocation ceremony. From left: Robert Dunham, then-Board of Directors chairman; Gilmour; Student Government Association President Kenneth R. Harding Jr.; and Veronica M. Muzic, who would later retire as vice president for academic affairs/provost.

Gilmour is officially installed as president during a 1998 convocation ceremony. From left: Robert Dunham, then-Board of Directors chairman; Gilmour; Student Government Association President Kenneth R. Harding Jr.; and Veronica M. Muzic, who would later retire as vice president for academic affairs/provost.

Gilmour joins culinary arts students in the prep line during a 2011 dinner to benefit the Tracy A. Garis Memorial Scholarship.

Gilmour joins culinary arts students in the prep line during a 2011 dinner to benefit the Tracy A. Garis Memorial Scholarship.

The president deftly wields a plasma cutter to sever a metal ribbon during a dedication ceremony for the expanded Lycoming Engines Metal Trades Center in 2020.

The president deftly wields a plasma cutter to sever a metal ribbon during a dedication ceremony for the expanded Lycoming Engines Metal Trades Center in 2020.

Her Penn College Favorites
  • students
  • people
  • the beautiful campus
  • learning new technologies
  • hearing how we change lives

“I have had the honor of having a front-row seat to observe her magical leadership style and the results it has produced,” Wilson says. “She has mentored me and countless others in this community. Her schedule is demanding, yet she rarely says ‘No’ to a cause or project that is going to positively impact the lives of others.”

Illustrative of that is Gilmour’s 65th birthday celebration in June 2019, which resulted in the collection of more than 70 children’s dresses for Wise Options (an advocacy organization of the YWCA Northcentral PA) and its Liberty House facility. The president invited the donations as part of a community wide tie-in to a campus gallery exhibit based on “The Hundred Dresses,” Eleanor Estes’ classic children’s book.

“Upon finishing the book, I ordered a butterfly dress, certainly in honor of your birthday but also in honor of all the little girls who don’t get to pick where they go to school or the clothes in their closet,” Wilson wrote to Gilmour at the time. “Just as you do throughout the entire year, your birthday has reminded me of the most important lessons: to act with kindness and generosity, to stand up for the most vulnerable and to offer a voice for those still searching to find their own.

Gilmour connects with student Colin D. McOdrum during a 2017 community peace walk to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day ...

Gilmour connects with student Colin D. McOdrum during a 2017 community peace walk to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day ...

... dunks herself for the viral ice bucket challenge in 2014 ...

... dunks herself for the viral ice bucket challenge in 2014 ...

... and meets with students on her first day as president in 1998.

... and meets with students on her first day as president in 1998.

“Butterflies represent a metamorphosis, and in the context of your 65th birthday, they are symbolic of the many ways you transform lives at the college, amongst your circle of friends and in the community – particularly the little girls about to receive new dresses. While I hope they wear them with pride, I pray that their families find transformation through the Liberty House.”

To Steven P. Johnson, president/CEO of UPMC Susquehanna, Gilmour’s tenure at the college is even more remarkable for her extraordinary gifts of service than its duration, which was more than three times longer than the average college president.

“Davie Jane often describes her students as others would describe their biological children; she loves them all and continues to take parent-like pride in their personal accomplishments and community contributions,” says Johnson, who also sits on the college’s Board of Directors.

“She is a tenacious advocate for faculty and staff and the programs they built, refined and optimized,” he says. “She developed her leadership team and made everyone around her better. Her personal preparation, attention to detail and timeliness are legendary.”

He says UPMC Susquehanna – as well as the chamber and First Community Foundation – confirms her business savvy and resolve to make the community a better place to live.

“For the health system, her commitment to patients is reflected in her chairmanship of the committee that planned and supervised the patient tower addition at Williamsport, the cancer center at Divine Providence and the new emergency department at Muncy,” the health care administrator says. Gilmour chairs the system’s Governance Committee and serves as the vice chair of the regional board and, he adds, continues to be an unwavering proponent of quality and safety.

The president reviews plans at the Dauphin Hall construction site in 2010 with since-retired Walter D. Nyman, director of general services, and Andrew M. Richardson, construction manager ...

The president reviews plans at the Dauphin Hall construction site in 2010 with since-retired Walter D. Nyman, director of general services, and Andrew M. Richardson, construction manager ...

... addresses the crowd at the 2014 Little League World Series as chair of the Little League International Board of Directors ...

... addresses the crowd at the 2014 Little League World Series as chair of the Little League International Board of Directors ...

... fulfills a 2012 vow to kiss a cow as part of a student fundraising effort ...

... fulfills a 2012 vow to kiss a cow as part of a student fundraising effort ...

... and reads to youngsters at the Dunham Children’s Learning Center in 2009.

... and reads to youngsters at the Dunham Children’s Learning Center in 2009.

Gilmour Era
  • 1977: instructor, dental hygiene
  • 1983: assistant professor, dental hygiene
  • 1983: interim coordinator, dental hygiene
  • 1984: acting director of health sciences/coordinator of dental hygiene
  • 1985: director of health sciences and coordinator of dental hygiene
  • 1986: director of health science division/coordinator of dental
  • auxiliary programs
  • 1989: interim associate dean of instruction, academic affairs
  • 1990: dean of instruction
  • 1993: vice president for academic affairs
  • 1996: vice president for academic affairs and provost
  • 1997: interim chief operating officer/vice president for academic
  • affairs and provost
  • 1998: interim president/vice president for academic affairs/provost
  • 1998: president

“Davie is a woman of enormous intellect, fearless confidence and genuine authenticity, and has the rare ability to demand high performance while inspiring innovative thinking and organizational loyalty,” Johnson remarks. “Pennsylvania College of Technology has been blessed by her leadership, and our community has been blessed by her friendship.”   

He’ll get no argument from Vince Matteo, who arrived in Williamsport after serving chambers of commerce in Wilkes-Barre and Scranton.

“When I was hired to become president/CEO of the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce in 2001, Dr. Gilmour was chairman of the board,” says Matteo, who retired in 2018. “I started in April, so for the critical first nine months of my 18-year tenure, Dr. Gilmour and I were figuratively ‘joined at the hip.’ In addition to learning the job, I needed to learn who the players were in the chamber and the community at large, and Davie was instrumental to my successful transition.”

During those years, Matteo adds, she remained an important adviser – serving another term as chair, as well as being the first to lead the chamber’s Economic & Community Growth Corp.

“Dr. Gilmour is a leader who understands the importance of having a successful community. In her role as president of Penn College, she has made certain that the college plays an integral role in the success of Williamsport and Lycoming County. She realizes that, without a successful community, Penn College could not thrive,” he says. “I worked with many leaders during my time at the chamber – and in my 38 years’ total in three chambers – and I can say without a doubt: No person cares more about the community than Dr. Gilmour.

“I know I would not have been as successful without her guidance and support, and for that, I will be eternally grateful to her.”

Commencement, Spring 1998

Commencement, Spring 1998

A trailblazing president

Dunham, who presided over one of the most fertile periods of the college’s growth – his role was reflected in the naming of the Children’s Learning Center for him and his wife, Maureen, a retired elementary school teacher – acknowledges that a college “does not transform itself … without superb leadership.”

“In her years as president, she has led and inspired and has brought academic integrity and high standards to the college,” he says. “She fosters an environment in which all people feel genuinely included. She has created a healthy campus community and a sense of pride. Through her excellent leadership, she has contributed greatly to her college and to her community and has made Penn College a unique, national model. Different from Williamsport Area Community College, and different from any Penn State campus.

“I am truly proud of Davie Gilmour. I will continue to be her cheerleader. We all owe her a debt of gratitude for her contribution to Penn College and the Williamsport community.”

Ever since Gilmour announced her June 2022 retirement last spring, each event has carried a pensive and poignant reminder of finality. August brought her last Welcome Weekend. Her last Homecoming followed a month later, and May will present her last chance to photograph graduates from the Community Arts Center stage.

“It hits me typically as I prepare, right before the event,” she says of the accompanying bittersweetness. “Each brings its own memories and stories to my mind.”

Instance upon instance of looking back. Reminiscing about good deeds done and, if done right, few regrets.

“My goal has always been to remove the barriers,” she says, “so we can all accomplish what we’re supposed to accomplish.”

And what accomplishments there have been!

“Under her leadership, the academic portfolio has increased and now includes several graduate programs,” says Martin, among Gilmour’s most faithful colleagues and friends since their Williamsport Area Community College days. “National recognition for the college, including increasingly higher ratings in U.S. News and World Report (Best Colleges), occurred during her tenure, and the college made significant advances in its physical plant while Davie was president.”

On all of those projects in all of those years – projects over which Martin had meticulous oversight – Gilmour has seldom done a groundbreaking or a building dedication the same way twice. She has wielded a welding torch and a masonry trowel, climbed aboard a piece of heavy equipment to open a PennDOT truck-wash bay on which students worked, drove an automobile through a checkered “ribbon” to inaugurate a new Honda lab, and illuminated the footprint for the Madigan Library.

Enhanced student life, including NCAA membership for Wildcat athletics, were among other activities that she directed, Martin says.

Commencement, Summer 2018

Commencement, Summer 2018

A forward-thinking president

Complementing Gilmour’s countdown to departure is a tripartite Legacy Campaign: academics and affinity, equipment and facilities, and scholarships – aspects of Penn College that resound deeply within her.

“The whole concept of international programs, having opportunities to study abroad, is an important one,” she explains. “That’s not just me talking. Students have told us, time and again, about those life-changing experiences.”

The corporate partnerships that have equipped so much of the college’s instructional space are also a key component of the campaign, subtitled “Tomorrow is in the making.”

“We can only be as effective as the machinery and technology through which our students learn,” she says. “Scholarship support is equally important.”

Her father, a blue-collar tradesman, and her schoolteacher mom worked “really, really hard” to put her through college, and Gilmour understands how finances can stimulate or stifle a student’s aspirations.

Typically, this president would balk at talk of “legacy.” She would rather the story be less about her “and more about what we’ve done collectively.” But even if she’s not remotely boastful, ascribing to others the attributes that she herself embodies, Gilmour has bragging rights.

A self-compiled playlist of her greatest hits: “Providing the resources for student success; hiring excellent faculty, support staff and resources to assist students; cultivating relationships that allow us to remain current in our laboratories and facilities; streamlining processes and practices to allow us to mitigate
or remove roadblocks to matriculation, graduation and access to education; putting students first in decision-making; and connecting the college to the community.”

Among the many beneficiaries of that “students first” mindset, McKenzie says he “could fill many pages” with his admiration for this singular president, “but it wouldn’t be enough.”

“I regret my inability – our inability – to repay the profound service Dr. Gilmour paid to the college and the community. Let us honor her legacy by investing in our community as she did: fully and irrespective of any reward.”

By The Numbers

Students enrolled in baccalaureate programs

  • Fall 1998: 25% of students
  • Fall 2021: 60%

College-owned housing capacity

  • Fall 1998: 650
  • Fall 2021: 1,524

Athletics

  • 1998-99: 11 intercollegiate sports
  • 2021-22: 16 NCAA Division III intercollegiate sports

Master’s degrees

  • Fall 1998: 0
  • Fall 2021: 2

Library

  • 1998: 288 seats
  • 2021: 1,000 seats

A crisis president

As she celebrates her substantial imprint during an overwhelmingly positive 45-year collegiate run, Gilmour has been equally present during the lowest lows that life can deal.

“It’s the unexpected that resonates,” the president recalls. “9/11 and the impact on all of us, the deaths of students and faculty, the flooding of facilities, power outages, the pandemic, enrollment declines. The unpredictable has tested us as an institution and me as a leader.”

Baier distinctly remembers Sept. 11, 2001 – “what I was doing and what she was doing.” The office coordinator recalls “knocking on the conference room door that day and telling Davie and the folks with her that they needed to watch the television.”

“What a defining moment for us as a nation and the college. She was a rock,” Baier recounts. “There were so many other instances when we were in ‘crisis’ (COVID, low enrollment, budget), when Davie stepped up to the plate and handled it like a pro.”

McKenzie says his final regret is in not crossing Gilmour’s path until “day’s end,” but suggests that this is no sunset.

“She ends her presidency not with a weary sigh, but with the same vigorous commitment to right for which she has always been known,” he says. “Rather than shy from legacy-threatening challenges, she steered this ship in her final years through its most transformative storms, taking on major rebrands and restructures, an institutionwide recentering on inclusion, and the pandemic, to name a few.”

The college’s response to COVID-19, maintaining hands-on instruction against the smart-money odds, is a clear example of Gilmour’s top-down leadership. Straddling the line between easing anxiety and making often-unpopular choices, she prevented classes from going strictly virtual past Spring 2020.

“Keeping us open and face-to-face through the pandemic were among the most difficult decisions I have faced in my life,” the president says. “The responsibility is more than I could have ever imagined.”

Such challenges soon will evaporate into contentment.

Gilmour meets with students near the Lifelong Education Center, 2002.

Gilmour meets with students near the Lifelong Education Center, 2002.

A retiring president

“Just don’t ask me what I’m going to do next,” Gilmour cautions. Travel with husband, Fred, is definitely in the plans, hitting the road to give her successor an unfettered opportunity to settle in. The rest is negotiable, a work-free work in progress.

Maybe she’ll exercise her lighter side as she exorcises her alarm clock, letting popular culture ease her into more leisurely pursuits. Not that she’s ever been strictly business.

“My favorite movies would probably make people laugh,” she shares, listing the three films that top the list. “‘The American President’ – there’s some great dialogue in that one; ‘Top Gun’ (‘Goose’ is my favorite) and ‘Red,’ another movie with great lines.”

“I also love contemporary mystery and spy novels,” Gilmour adds. “Fiction for fun; nonfiction is confined to work topics for me.”

On her office sideboard, shunted by the day’s calendar, AKA a series of blue-tinted squares that denote an overflowing slate of meetings, is another book awaiting her attention.

Its pages are empty, but only for now, anticipating the itinerary of a retiree with time – finally, time – to spare.

Those resolute community ties will continue, and it’ll be hard to resist the call to mentor new civic leaders. She will, no doubt, relish waking up now and then with nowhere else to be.

Accompanying her journeys “wherever” will be a harmonious chorus of well-wishers, the voices of those still with us and others, such as Gilmour’s late parents – the welder and the educator – and longtime colleague Veronica M. Muzic, who beam from their off-campus vantage.

Their song will echo the words adorning the cover of that beckoning journal, a phrase that evokes both challenge and invitation: “Let the adventure begin.”