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Vieve's Legacy

Vieve's Legacy

By Distinguished Service Professor and Professor of English, Steve Baar.


Genevieve Walton met Wilbert Gore in Salt Lake City, where she had moved after spending much of her childhood on a cattle ranch in Wyoming. Bill started attending Westminster in the late 1920s when it was a preparatory school. The rest is a history well documented—courtship, marriage, the outdoors, DuPont, five children, the basement start-up, the outdoors with five children, and ultimately owners of one of the most successful privately held businesses in the world.

What is not as well known is that Vieve and Bill Gore became Westminster’s silent saviors during a difficult period from about
1975–1985, a time when dozens of small private colleges, unable to adapt to the economic fallout of both the recession and
changing student demographics, began to close. It was the Gore’s steady emotional and financial support and their abiding faith in the college’s mission that literally kept the college open. 

What attracted the Gores to Westminster were values that W. L. Gore and Associates embodied—independence, an alternative to prevailing ideas, a unique culture, and an ongoing commitment to preserve the past while adapting to the future. 

After Bill died in 1986, and in part to keep his values alive, Vieve became, over the next two decades, one of the single most influential benefactors in the history of Westminster. Her philanthropic spirit was not about rescuing or saving the college or any other organization, nor was it about honoring her family or her influence. It was about enabling people to be free to dream and then freer still to realize those dreams.

At a luncheon meeting on campus several years ago, Vieve Gore dropped in unannounced to listen to faculty reporting on their “Gore Summer Grants,” one part of an outstanding faculty development program funded by the Gore Excellence in Teaching Endowment.

While I knew Vieve believed in encouraging people to pursue their dreams, I was afraid that some of the faculty’s projects and scholarship might appear esoteric, if not downright arcane. She sat and listened, delighted and engaged by each report because what she heard and felt was the faculty’s enthusiasm for what they cared passionately about. She valued their love for their work and their commitment to students. The students and faculty of Westminster will continue to be the beneficiaries of this special kind of no-strings support.

I had an opportunity to visit with Vieve several months ago when I was delivering some photographs of the new Vieve Gore Concert Hall. Into her nineties, she carried herself with the grace and bearing of an earlier generation’s finishing schools (which she did not attend) and the energy and directness of a young woman who rode on horseback to a oneroom Wyoming schoolhouse (which she did attend).

The eagerness with which she held me in her gaze and the warmth of her laughter remain with me as striking reminders of her ability to engage life day by day, opportunity by opportunity, child by grandchild by greatgrandchild. For all the magnanimous philanthropy to support others, it was actually her family, her children, and especially her husband, who most captured her attention and devotion and love.

I am aware of how one life— especially one so powerful and yet so gentle—passes and can become mythologized until it bears little resemblance to the person who was. For me, Vieve Gore was already a little larger than life when she was alive. So no matter how natural and graceful her passing, there is an emptiness in the worlds of all of us who were given the gift of realizing our dreams.