Gilly Sullivan, Former U.Va. Alumni Association Director, Has Died

January 6, 2009 — Gilbert J. Sullivan, who retired in 1993 after devoting 45 years to the University of Virginia's Alumni Association, including 35 years as its director, died Monday in Charlottesville. He was 80.

Sullivan went to work for the Alumni Association in 1948, after graduating from U.Va. at age 19 with an accounting degree. The former Cavalier quarterback rose to director in 1958.

A memorial service will be held Saturday at noon at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 190 Rugby Road, followed by a reception in the Alumni Hall Ballroom at 1 p.m.

When Sullivan retired in 1993, U.Va. President John T. Casteen III told the Alumni News that his efforts for 45 years had been integral to the University's well-being. Tuesday, Casteen recognized his personal and professional contributions.

"Gilly Sullivan was a man of remarkable talents, not all of them widely known," Casteen said. "He was a general in the National Guard, and at least two of our governors tried to persuade him to leave Alumni Hall and to become Adjutant General. He declined both times because his lifetime loyalties were to the University of Virginia, Charlottesville and Albemarle County, where at various times over the years he acted in quiet ways — as a private citizen or a National Guard leader or a University official — to prompt good outcomes to hard, often divided issues."

Sullivan was commanding officer of the Monticello Guard, Co. K, 116th Infantry, Virginia National Guard.

Current Alumni Association director C. Thomas Faulders III said, "Gilly served the Alumni Association and the University with great distinction for 45 years, during which the alumni population grew by more than 300 percent.

"Nationally recognized and respected as one of the leading alumni directors of his era, he will be best remembered around the Grounds for helpfulness to students and alumni in need. He had an enormously positive impact on many generations of students and alumni."

A native of Fredericksburg, Sullivan was an active undergraduate student and a member of the oldest secret society at U.Va., the Z society, a philanthropic group that honors student accomplishment. As a student, he also belonged to Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, was often on the Dean's List, and was later elected to Omicron Delta Kappa, a national honor society, and the Raven Society.

Sullivan served on the Board of Governors of the Colonnade Club and chaired the U.Va. chapter of the Red Cross before becoming Alumni Association director.

Over the years, Sullivan helped develop the most prominent alumni programs, including the Virginia Student Aid Foundation (now the Virginia Athletics Foundation), which provides scholarships for athletes. He oversaw major building expansion and fundraising for the Jefferson Scholars Program.

In 1966, he took over as editor of Alumni News, and worked with William H. Fishback Jr., then the University's new director of information services, in producing the quarterly magazine.

In 1992, he received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award for excellence of character and service to the University community, one of the University's highest awards.

When Jack Syer succeeded Sullivan as director of the Alumni Association in 1993, he said he was "well aware of the magnitude of the shoes" he would try to fill.

Sullivan, Casteen said, "had a generous and gentle sense of humor, tremendous resilience as the University grew and changed around him, and a quality of puckishness that made hours spent with him times that I remember with gratitude and pleasure.

"Flat tires, bad directions, broken hotel beds and other events provoked not irritation or despair, but instead appreciation to have shared the experience with a man of Gilly's range and capacity for wisdom and good humor," he said.

The U.Va. Alumni Association, founded in 1838 as the sixth such group organized in the United States, comprises a staff of more than 50 and is governed by the Board of Managers.

The association was originally housed in Pavilion VII on the Lawn of the Academical Village. It moved to its current location, the former Kappa Phi House on Emmet Street, in 1936.

Sullivan is survived by Ann Vernon Harlin Sullivan, his wife of 59 years. Other survivors include two sons and two daughters, three of whom graduated from the University of Virginia. They are: Michael L. Sullivan of Richmond; V.G. Sullivan and his wife, Mary, of Charlottesville; Sarah S. Schimmels and her husband, Larry, of Richmond; and Susan S. Finley and her husband, Stephen, of Charlottesville. There are nine grandchildren, three of whom are current U.Va. students: Lucy G. Sullivan, Charlotte M. Sullivan and Kristi A. Finley.