Sept. 5, 2006
59, Number 2
Sept. 5, 2006
The story so far
by Eric Rangus
Every staff person in the Association of Emory Alumni (AEA) has a story about a Gerry Lowrey story.
“I was in his office the other day and I asked about the pictures he has on the wall,” said Gloria Grevas, assistant director for Emory Weekend and reunions at the AEA. Lowrey’s second-floor office in the Miller-Ward Alumni House is decorated with a variety of Emory memorabilia including several historic, black-and-white pictures of campus.
“And he told me all about how he rescued the pictures from the trash heap outside the old AEA office and then had them framed,” Grevas continued. “He talked about the different buildings and how they have been used through the years, pointed out where cars used to park, and where Emory used to do graduation. It was fascinating.”
Lowrey is a master at weaving tales about past—
and present—life on Emory’s campus. Among his office memorabilia are two rocking chairs. They come in handy, too, because when he speaks, it does the listener good to get comfortable. He or she probably won’t want to leave for a while.
“I’ve always had a mind for stories and sort of a historical bent, I guess,” said Lowrey, senior director for Campus Relations with the AEA. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Auburn University and a master’s in psychology at West Georgia before coming to Emory. “I’m just able to remember a lot of trivial detail—it helps having been here on and off for the last 30 years.”
Lowrey first came to Emory as a doctoral student in 1976 and—except for a stint at Columbia University in the 1990s as deputy vice president for campus life and later as associate provost, followed by some independent management and consulting—has not strayed far from campus.
The first part of Lowrey’s Emory career was spent in campus life. When he returned in 1997, he moved over to alumni relations. While the name “alumni relations” implies the work begins when the student leaves campus, Lowrey said the connections must be formed much earlier.
“Most of our students are only here on campus for four years,” he said, adding that graduate students can be here for more or less depending on their course of study. “But for the rest of their lives they are connected to Emory as alumni. The quality of experience our alumni have during their formative years on campus greatly impacts their willingness to be involved in leadership positions with Emory in the years that follow.”
Which is one of the reasons Lowrey enjoys his role as AEA’s point man on campus. “It is very important to us that we do everything we can to have visibility among these students while they’re here, and also to contribute in any way we can to the very best experience they can possibly have while they are on the campus,” he said.
“The best thing about working with alumni is that I knew so many of them as students,” Lowrey continued. “It’s so much fun to see them grow and develop from being sort of big kids at 18 and leave as confident graduates at 22. Then they come back and remember the campus, and talk about what they have been involved with since leaving. It’s wonderful to stay connected to people you helped in some small way during their time on campus.”
From 1980–90, Lowrey had easy access to most every student through his various administrative roles in the Division of Campus Life. He served as associate dean for several years, but where his impact is perhaps felt most is in athletics.
Emory’s athletics program, which has a long, notable history both intercollegiately and recreationally, can trace much of its modern makeup directly to Lowrey.
In the late 1970s, Lowrey was paying his way through graduate school with a variety of odd jobs—waiting tables downtown, shelving books in the library, working as an outdoor recreation planner for the National Park Service—when he wandered into the athletics office and volunteered to teach a yoga class.
Lowrey was taken up on his offer and earned $600 for his efforts. “The class only met two days a week, which was a godsend because that meant I didn’t have to wait tables and I had more time to study.”
Pretty soon, Lowrey volunteered to teach a backpacking course, which he did as well. By 1980 he had built himself a solid reputation in the athletics department; that year one of Emory’s coaches fell ill and the department needed a quick replacement. Lowrey thought he might be the guy. Although the position required a Ph.D.. (Lowrey hadn’t completed his dissertation at that point, although he would in 1981, earning his doctorate), he applied anyway, figuring there wouldn’t be a huge applicant pool. There wasn’t. So Lowrey was hired to direct the outdoor program—and coach Emory’s cross country and track teams.
At the time, Emory’s intercollegiate athletics programs were a sliver of what they are now. Emory fielded just five men’s teams and two on the women’s side. The cross country program was an afterthought.
“There was no women’s team and the men’s team had just five runners and rarely earned a team score,” Lowrey said. So he set his sights on building the program.
“I recruited every student I found jogging on campus,” he said. “We were horrible when we started, but I tried to get them to focus not on how we were doing vs. the other teams but to work on their own individual times and keep getting better. And we did.”
In 1981, the women’s team won the southeast regional and finished eighth at the first Div. III cross country championship (still the team’s second highest national finish in its history). In 1983, Lowrey was asked to serve as athletics director, following in the steps of the legendary Clyde Partin.
What followed were the first steps of Emory athletics’ advancement from casual diversion to Div. III power. Not
only did Emory add four men’s teams and six women’s teams during Lowrey’s time as athletics director, but he also helped create the University Athletic Association, still Emory’s athletics home and perhaps the most competitive Div. III conference in the country.
Lowrey remains heavily active today—bicycling and hiking are two of his passions and he is spending two weeks this month canoeing the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota.
His interest in outdoor activity began when he was growing up in rural Alabama. His graduating class in Marengo County (about 70 miles south of Tuscaloosa) had just 22 students, so he played football, baseball and ran track. Lowrey picked up yoga—not exactly a common interest for a farm kid from west central Alabama—a few years later.
“I like the stretching,” he said. “It’s good for concentration, meditation and relaxation. It’s the ying for the yang of the more active sports I enjoy.
“I took yoga from a fellow teaching it at the University of Alabama,” Lowrey continued. From 1974–76 he was assistant director of development at that institution. “I spent some time in Tuscaloosa after I came back from Vietnam.”
Like many of his undergraduate classmates at Auburn, Lowrey joined the ROTC and although he had a low draft number, his status committed him to serve. He served a year in the army stateside and a year in Vietnam. A first lieutenant, Lowrey was offered a promotion to captain if he remained in the service, but he decided he was finished.
“Actually, before Tuscaloosa, I spent four months traveling in Europe with a backpack,” he said. “I loved just getting the olive drab out of my psyche and coming back to reality,” he said, before returning to the benefits of yoga, since—as the best storytellers know—some things about the past are best left there.