By Misty Poe
Times West Virginian
MORGANTOWN — Walking into the corner office of Stewart Hall, where many powerful men have grown West Virginia University into the state’s flagship university and now a presence on the international stage, is intimidating.
An assistant suggests where the photographer and writer should set up, as a soft leather chair by a window that looks over the campus is where the president “usually sits.”
There is no mistaking where you are in the office — the heart of WVU — with gold and blue accessories and accents, photos of campus and the Mountaineer mascot on the walls, a large wall hanging of the Flying WV.
But then the president walks into the room, warmly shakes hands and apologizes for being late. He’s wearing a light gray suit and a bow tie, very round and very bold eyeglasses (which is a signature look for him) and asks his assistant if the gold and blue stripes of his tie represent WVU’s colors well. He’s pleased that she agrees the colors are spot on. He takes that chair where he usually sits, not without first asking permission if he can drink his Diet Dr Pepper during the interview.
He immediately puts the people in the room at ease. He pulls out his smartphone and shares pictures he’s taken of different things that come up in the interview. It’s hard to remember that the man sitting in front of you has led five major universities in his lifetime — that is, until you start firing questions at him, which he answers thoughtfully yet effortlessly.
His journey began at WVU, when he became the university’s 19th and youngest president ever at the age of 36. And he has come full circle, becoming as he describes “the accidental president” earlier this spring when the WVU Board of Governors voted to name him the university’s 26th president after serving in the interim position for about three months.
But it was no accident. E. Gordon Gee felt like the move back to WVU was serendipitous. If it were University X or University Y that asked him to take an interim position last year, Gee says he would have declined. But it was WVU, the university that gave a very young man a very unique opportunity to lead the school, and coming back 30 years later was a way to give back to the university and the state he’s loved so dearly for most of his career.
“WVU really is the tie that binds,” Gee says. “West Virginians gave me the chance to do something really quite remarkable at a young age, and so I felt it was an opportunity to pay a bit forward. And now it’s a chance to get re-engaged with the university and people of the state that I really cherish.”