HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The dawn of a hot, sunny day Thursday also brought the dawn of the tenure of Marshall University’s 37th president, Jerome “Jerry” Gilbert, during an investiture ceremony in front of the John Marshall statue and hundreds of family, friends, and sons and daughters of Marshall.
The ceremony was a formal and celebratory commemoration of Gilbert’s assumption of the presidency, which took place about nine months after Gilbert officially became president of the university in January and two days before the birthday of the university’s namesake, the third chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Marshall.
The event featured personal and professional anecdotes and remarks of support from dignitaries representing Marshall, the state of West Virginia and Mississippi State University, where Gilbert earned his bachelor’s degree in the 1970s and served as provost and executive vice president during the six years prior to coming to Marshall.
“I’m honored to stand before you as the 37th president of Marshall University, and I’m humbled by this occasion,” Gilbert said.
“It’s not so much an occasion for me, but for the office of the president of Marshall. I’m very appreciative to the Board of Governors for having faith in me, and I will always be true to the faith you put in me.”
Gilbert took his oath of office from West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission Chancellor Paul Hill standing next to Marshall Board of Governors President Wyatt Scaggs and West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
Gilbert, 61, honored his mother, Elizabeth Anderson, his wife, Leigh, their three adult children, Peter, Sally and Caroline, and their granddaughter, Eliza, before he talked about John Marshall’s legacy and how Gilbert, who admittedly is a history buff, wants to better incorporate and promote John Marshall’s values into the university named for him.
“I think the legacy of John Marshall is significant,” Gilbert said. “I want the university associated with him to be better known for carrying on the tradition of excellence he established. I have a profound respect and fondness for the namesake of the university.”
Gilbert said he’d visited the John Marshall Foundation in Richmond, Virginia, during the summer to learn even more about John Marshall, a Virginia native for whom the university, founded in 1837, was named two years after his death in 1835, 28 years before West Virginia became a state.
Gilbert quoted a letter written by John Marshall, in which the chief justice talked about the value of education and happiness, and he drew from that in talking about his goals for students who attend Marshall.
“Education is not just about learning facts,” Gilbert said. “It’s about learning how to live an honorable life and to function productively in society. It’s also about the development of character. I think John Marshall would be very proud to have Marshall University named after him. He would be proud because at Marshall we strive not just to develop a student intellectually, but also we concentrate on the social, professional and ethical development of the prospective student.”
“I can tell you I’m strongly committed to carrying on the tradition of striving for excellence that Dr. Kopp established in his tenure and was carried on by President Gary White,” Gilbert said.
In speaking of excellence, William Fox, dean emeritus of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Mississippi, said he saw excellence in Gilbert through his perspective of knowing Gilbert as a college student in the 1970s and as a professional peer and friend in subsequent decades.
“I’ve heard so many accolades about Jerry Gilbert today, and I want to tell you they’re all true,” Fox said. “You’ve known him for 335 days. I’ve known him for 16,720. In 1973, this bright, young, eager youngster from Jackson, Mississippi, enrolls (in the biological engineering program), and we’ve known him since that day.”
Fox was backed in his support for Gilbert by Mississippi State President Mark Keenum, who spoke of Gilbert’s presidency as a great gain for Marshall and a great loss for Mississippi State.
“Let me tell you, he is a genuine human being,” Keenum said. “He is very humble. He’s got a huge mind. He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met in my life.”
“His commitment is to respecting other people, all people, regardless of background or who they are. You’ll not find anyone who will be more committed to respect and dignity than Jerry Gilbert.”