Charlie Nutt, NACADA Executive Director
We all know that Bruce Springsteen is known as “The Boss” of rock and roll. Several years ago, I had a conversation with Virginia Gordon and told her that she was “The Boss of Academic Advising” as she had been our rock, our foundation, and our guiding light for NACADA and the profession for her entire career. She gave me that wonderful smile that only Virginia could give and laughed loudly and retorted, “If I am the Boss, then I have few more things to say!” And I, of course, listened and learned as we all did when Virginia spoke.
Sadly, NACADA and our profession lost that shining light when Virginia passed away recently at nearly 90 years old – but we will never lose “The Boss” in our hearts and in our continual attempts to make NACADA and the profession what she knew we could be. She was a founding member of the association and was our first woman president (1983-1984), but in her quiet, professional, and caring manner she led NACADA far beyond that term as president. She led us by example by conducting some of the first research in the field, publishing the seminal work in the area of exploratory students, and editing numerous books on academic advising, including both the first and second editions of Academic Advising: A Comprehensive Handbook, NACADA’s first joint publication with Jossey-Bass.
I could write a book on Virginia’s scholarly and professional accomplishments, which I would ask her to edit, but instead I want to spend my time with you writing about Virginia the person. First, I am sure many of you are appalled I am not referring to her as Dr. Gordon. I remember that first time I met Virginia personally in 1994. I had seen her from a distance and was just in awe at seeing the real Dr. Gordon in person but was much too afraid to approach her, much less speak to her. Finally, after three more annual conferences I fearfully approached her with a copy of an article she had written and asked “Dr. Gordon” if I could have her autograph. She smiled and said “No…I only give autographs to people who call me Virginia.” I nearly fainted on the spot.
Of course, she signed the article for me and as I thanked her profusely and turned to leave, she said “Let’s sit and talk. You know who I am but I want to know who you are. Why is an English teacher (HOW DID SHE KNOW I WAS AN ENGLISH TEACHER???) at a community college so interested in academic advising? We don’t reach enough faculty members. What are your ideas for how we can do that?” And for the next 45 minutes we talked about academic advising, faculty viewpoints, why I thought faculty should be more involved, and ideas for how we might reach more faculty members.
We probably would still be sitting there, but she finally said, “Oh, look at the time. There is a new advisor doing a session on exploratory students in a few minutes and I want to go learn what she is doing. Come with me; maybe you can learn something too!” I can still see that new advisor’s face when Virginia walked into her session and began to learn from her, never interrupting and never calling attention to herself even as the presenter cited Virginia’s work throughout her session.
From that moment on I had a friend in Virginia, whom I also looked for at annual conferences just to have a chance to say “hello.” Every time I got the same questions: “What have you been doing? How is academic advising improving on your campus? How can NACADA help you AND now what can you do to help NACADA do more?” I relished those short conversations and learned more and more from her each year. What stood out to me most, though, was that Virginia’s mission and soul were grounded in reaching out to new professionals every chance she could and bringing them into our “NACADA Family” in her quiet, caring, and always personal and inquiring manner. I also learned from her how to respond when people called me Dr. Nutt: By replying, “Please call me Charlie.”
All of us have our own personal stories of Virginia’s impact on us both professionally and personally. I have to share just two more. In 1998 NACADA held our Summer Institute in Park City and as part of the Institute, participants went on the great hot air balloon ride. Many of you have heard my story of my fear of that experience and my screaming like a middle-school girl as we took off the ground. What you don’t know is that when we landed, the balloon pilot said to me that he hated to embarrass me (more) but that he had just finished a ride with a 70-something woman who refused help into and out of the basket and had kept everyone else calm and peaceful during the ride – much different than I had done! Of course, it was Virginia. And she never let me live that down! On that same Park City trip, several of us were driving to dinner through the beautiful Utah mountains. All of a sudden we heard from the back seat the most beautiful yodeling that perfectly fit the scenery. Once again, it was Virginia. She was a woman of many talents to say the least.
A few years ago, after Virginia felt her health no longer allowed her to attend the annual conferences, I had the amazing opportunity to go to dinner at Virginia’s home with George and Peg Steele. And what a pure treat it was! In addition to her research, writing, publishing, and other scholarly achievements, it turned out Virginia was an amazing gardener with the most beautiful Japanese garden in her back yard in the center of Columbus, Ohio. And yes, with help, she was still doing the gardening herself each year. In her wisdom, she said to me, “We academics too often forget that there is life outside of the university. My garden is my way of reminding myself that life is not all about me, but is about creating new life and new worlds of amazement in any way we can.”
When I talked with George after Virginia’s death, we both took a moment to grieve together on the phone but very quickly we both moved to what an amazing woman we had been lucky enough to have had in our lives.
While our shining light may be gone, in my heart and in NACADA’s heart Virginia “The Boss’ Gordon will never really be gone. Thank you, NACADA, for bringing “The Boss” into my life!
Charlie Nutt, Executive Director
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising
Cite this article using APA style as: Nutt, C. (2017, December). A life of service to NACADA, our profession, and students across the world: Virginia Gordon aka The Boss. Academic Advising Today, 40(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]