One by one, Geoff Gamble has given up the trappings of the presidency at Montana State University.
The office. The house. The car. The power.
Nine years after moving into the president’s office on the second floor of Montana Hall, Gamble has moved out, spending the past few weeks in temporary quarters in a tiny room by a bathroom.
When he returns to teaching part time in January, Gamble will take an even humbler office in a trailer, parked outside under-renovation Hamilton Hall.
It will be quite a change for the man who used to hold life and death power over others’ office space, academic careers and million-dollar budgets.
On Tuesday, his last day at Montana Hall, Gamble started work at 7 a.m., handed in the keys to the president’s Toyota Highlander hybrid SUV and gave a farewell interview. His final day as president is Dec. 31, but he’s using up some vacation time before then.
The most upbeat man on campus is retiring at age 67 with both his intellectual curiosity and great sense of optimism intact.
“I’m pretty excited about teaching,” Gamble said. A binder full of his lecture notes on linguistics — from Greek to American Indian languages — is all ready. “I think it’s what I do best.”
Wearing a blue Bobcat sweater vest and gold shirt, Gamble looked happy, if grayer. Leaving Montana Hall marks the end of 30 years in higher-education administration.
“It’s been a great career, and I’m looking to the next phase,” he said.
“I’m going to miss a lot. I spend 30 years, kind of in the center of things and often making final decisions. I think it’s going to be a profound change for me.”
He said his wife, Patricia, has pointed out that he may be accustomed to making big decisions, but, he added wryly, “she doesn’t feel she needs supervision.”
The Gambles have been “practicing this retirement thing,” he said. They just spent a three-day weekend in West Yellowstone and Old Faithful, seeing eagles, coyotes and elk.
When Patricia was battling cancer, chemotherapy was “tough stuff,” he said, and she was “particularly brave.” As a Christmas gift to her last year, he arranged a four-day vacation on the Oregon coast, away from phones and hospitals.
“We focused on each other and made the wonderful discovery that the things that brought us together, that caused us to fall in love, were still there,” Gamble said. “We were like little kids. We had fun. After the storms we walked barefoot on the beach, looking for treasures.”
No one knows how much time they have left, he said. “We decided we’re going to spent it together.” And that’s when he decided to retire.
Gamble said he feels good about what MSU has accomplished during his tenure — reversing the brain drain of Montana graduates, expanding MSU’s research program, helping students and faculty win awards. He’s excited that his successor, Waded Cruzado, seems “a talented leader.”
Still, he would like to have done more to expand two-year college education in the Gallatin Valley and to move the second year of Montana’s medical student training from Seattle to Bozeman.
“I have mixed feelings,” he said. “It’s an interesting blend — a sense of accomplishment, a sense of un-fulfillment, some things left undone.”
Some 270 people attended his retirement dinner last week. Among its highlights for him were video greetings from former student body president Shane Colvin, speaking from Ireland, and from a former student, a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, who thanked Gamble for helping him 30 years ago when he was a financially struggling student at Washington State University, and Gamble got him a job that let him pay for tuition.
That’s the kind of thing Gamble wants to do more of — helping students. He was the only one in his family in Fresno, Calif., to go to college, and he credits a few teachers and advisors who encouraged him.
“I’ve had wonderful careers and great prosperity, and it all came about because of education,” he said. The Gambles announced they are leaving their estate, worth an estimated $2 million, to create a center to promote students’ success with advising, tutoring and teaching.
Moving out of the president’s office let the painters get in to give it a fresh coat of paint for the first time in at least a decade. He said it also helped him and MSU’s top administrators adjust to the fact that he’s leaving.
One of his jobs, he said, has been to make smooth transition to the new president, preparing the office, the house and briefings from every end of the university.
“She will be up to speed from the very first day,” Gamble said.
Now he hopes to have more time for his hobbies, woodworking and astronomy, as well as for exercise.
Gamble added with a smile that he’s leaving Cruzado one memento of his presidency, which sparked accusations of overspending. Just as he promised, it will stay with the president’s house.
“There’s a treadmill,” he said and laughed, “waiting for the new president.”