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A TRIBUTE TO THE FOUNDING BENEFACTOR OF PENOHIO: A WRITER'S BEST FRIEND
by Thomas J. Merrill
I met Flo Gault on an April Saturday in 2012 by her bedside, at her express invitation. She had something important to talk to me about. She said it could not wait. She would not take no for an answer. I arrived to find Flo and her husband Stan awaiting me.
In about an hour, the two of them has convinced me that I needed to drop everything in my life to make PenOhio a reality.
Listen, won't you?...
Listen, won’t you, to the story of a young writer at heart, like you…
Just across an Ohio college campus, not too far from where you are probably reading these words, stands Holden Hall. It’s much more than bricks and mortar. It’s a legend, in fact. For in its shadow, countless pledges of love eternal have been touched off. Or cemented with a kiss.
And so it was on a day not unlike today—laced with sunshine, clouds and breeze—that Flo Gault met her match way back in 1945. There in the shadow of Holden Hall.
He was an Army Air Corps Veteran and Class President fresh home from victory in World War II’s South Pacific. Brash with well-deserved confidence, he challenged her to go out on a date, and leaned beside his friend’s convertible inviting her for a ride. Glenn Miller’s Big Band sounds boomed from the dashboard radio as she and a friend hopped aboard. Then her roommate slammed the car door…without even the slightest consideration for the whereabouts of his fingers. He bit his lip and two of his fingers broke. Then, as she will never forget, he politely asked whether someone could kindly reopen the door.
“A man who could withstand such pain, yet treat me so respectfully was obviously a keeper,” Flo remembers. “From that day forward, I knew I’d met my match.”
Flo had always been drawn to the classics. John Milton, C.S. Lewis, John Wesley, and Wordsworth were her favorites. In the verse, she remembers, lessons seemed to leap off the page…lessons about finding a meaningful path through life, and a sustainable path into love. The study of great writing became her calling. And, thanks to a scholarship from the Rotary Club in her home town of Canal Fulton, she was able to afford tuition to Wooster. She didn’t know what the future might bring. But armed with an unabashed love for the lessons of great authors, she knew what she sought: something truly special.
All along the squirrel-adorned sidewalks between College and Wayne Avenues, Flo’s story comes to life again and again. The Independent Study Library now bears her name. The Admissions Center bears that of her husband, Stan, whose fingers (thankfully) healed just fine. The Gault family has become synonymous with success. Their love has blossomed into a lifetime of exceptional accomplishment.
Flo’s love of writing resulted in an English major. Her Independent Study (a special academic feature of Wooster’s educational approach) focused on John Wesley, the author she admired so deeply, and his impact on other famous literary figures. Through her studies and prompted by two teachers who inspired her immensely, Flo began to understand the wisdom embedded in great works—word to live by.
“Do all that you can.” Flo repeats this again and again to this day. They are the start of a famous passage by John Wesley. “Those were words of wisdom that became the code by which we lived…and loved.” Over her lifetime, such words also became her rallying cry. She served the United Methodist Church locally, regionally and nationally. She became an advocate for the arts, and a steward to more sensitive care for children and the mentally challenged. Flo served on numerous advisory boards, while raising three wonderful children—all the while inspiring her husband’s accomplishments.
Flo’s husband of 63 years, Stanley Gault, is often regarded as one of the most astute and esteemed businessmen in Ohio. For 31 years, he rose through the ranks of General Electric, and pioneered the footfalls others would take along their path to greatness. In 1981, Mr. Gault took the helm of Rubbermaid in order to be closer to Wooster. In ten years, the company was awarded formal recognition as “The Most Admired Company in America.” Then, on the eve of retirement, Mr. Gault was persuaded to take over as Chairman of the Board and CEO of The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. He is respected as the man who returned the corporation to profitability.
His was the world of business. Hers, the world of ideas. Together, they encouraged, and achieved an incredible record of success. And at the heart of it all is a love of words that have become an inspiration to others.
Over many decades, the two have penned countless speeches encouraging others to find within themselves the courage and strength to do what is right for others, for community, and for country. “The winners of the future will be those who can harness the imagination and energy of not just a few key people, but instead, commit to finding a better way to do more,” Mr. Gault wrote in 1999. They were words echoed by Flo, who observed in a speech to young writers recently, “The twentieth century will undoubtedly be identified with the splitting of the atom. Students in the twenty-first century should find a way to put things back together again, ushering in a new era of peace and goodwill among men.”
Her advice to you? “Reach within yourself to find the inspiration to write words that propel you to the world of your greatest imagination. Take pride in appreciating those words of wisdom written before. One day, your love, your life and your accomplishments will undoubtedly blossom as well.”
“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”