If the worth of a man is measured in the impact that he left on the lives of others, Gilly Sullivan was the most important man I’ve ever known. He was dedicated to helping students at the University of Virginia and to ensuring that Mr. Jefferson’s principles of student self-governance were consistently upheld, and he was able to produce miracles in a way that no one else associated with the institution seemed able.
I had three separate interactions with Gilly. In one, he was the bearer of the news that I had won an alumni-sponsored scholarship that I didn’t know existed and had never applied for. In the second, he helped save the magazine that I had cofounded just an issue before when our business manager decided not to sell any ads and not to tell me about it.
In the third, which began before I got to the University and continued the whole time I was there, he was the guardian angel that helped ensure the survival of the Virginia Glee Club as an independent organization when the UVA music department wanted to subsume it into a mixed chorus. He did it by ensuring that the music department couldn’t claim any control over the Glee Club’s alumni-funded endowment, thus ensuring we’d have some way to survive without department support. He was similarly instrumental in helping the revival of the UVA Women’s Chorus.
I wrote a Wikipedia entry for Gilly a few months ago but never shared it with the broader world until this week; I wanted to dig deeper to find more information about the man. For all his influence, he left a remarkably small impact on the news world–a few articles around the time he retired and that was it. He deserved more praise than he got, but I think he knew how much of a difference he made to students like me.