"I have great affection for Sewanee's campus and for the progress that the School of Theology continues to make."

The Rev. Gedge Gayle, Jr.,
T'63, T'76, P'86, GP'19, GP'21

The Rev. Gedge Gayle, Jr., T’63, T’76, P’86, GP’19, GP’21, has so many Sewanee connections that his suffixes read like alphabet soup. It wasn’t always this way. Gayle laughs recalling his introduction to Sewanee, which occurred under less-than-pleasant circumstances. During his childhood in Lake Charles, LA, he says, “My parents had a way of enforcing discipline by saying, ‘If you act up or get in trouble, I’m sending you to Sewanee Military Academy.’” Gayle notes that his father attended a military academy in Virginia for a year, “So, he knew this threat was very effective.”

Even as he entered college and began contemplating a career, Sewanee didn’t immediately cross Gayle’s mind. “I went to Tulane University [as an undergraduate] and took premed courses,” he says. “I double majored in botany and zoology, and my minor was chemistry.” A future in medicine seemed set, he says, until life took a turn. “Between my sophomore and junior years, my dad, who had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, died. And that kind of upset the apple cart with respect to what I was planning to do with my life.” Still grieving and uncertain during his senior year, Gayle visited with Bishop Girault Jones, T’28, former bishop in the Diocese of Louisiana, who had known Gayle’s family for many years. “He suggested I had a vocation in ministry,” Gayle says. Jones, who served as Sewanee’s Chancellor from 1967-1973, offered to provide a full scholarship for Gayle’s enrollment at the School of Theology. “As soon as I got to St. Luke’s Hall in 1960, I knew I was at the right place,” Gayle says.

Though Sewanee’s quiet campus has little in common with Tulane’s urban atmosphere, Gayle experienced a bit of collegiate déjà vu on the Mountain. “I ran into [Sewanee] college kids on a regular basis,” he notes. At the time, the seminary was located in the middle of campus, so, as Gayle describes, seminarians and undergrads often dined together. “We were one big family in that sense,” he says. He gained additional undergrad friendships when he joined Sewanee’s varsity swim team in his first year—the team’s only seminarian athlete. “I had such a great time on the team,” he shares. “I really felt at home.”

Another stand-out seminary experience was Gayle’s participation in Clinical Pastoral Education, which, as he explains, was referred to as clinical training in the 1960s. The summer before his second Sewanee year, he spent 12 weeks providing pastoral care at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital and Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. “It was a very good experience—probably the best thing I experienced in terms of becoming a pastor,” he says. Gayle’s time at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital coincided with the St. Luke’s career of Dr. Denton Cooley, famous for performing the first implantation of an artificial heart. Given the enormous risks associated with cardiothoracic surgery at that time, “We had to deal with life and death issues,” Gayle says. He notes that heart surgeries, though groundbreaking, were not always successful. “We were called upon to serve families and try to help them through a very difficult period—especially for infants with congenital heart issues,” he says. “It was challenging in every way.”

After graduation, Gayle served in Curate positions at two Louisiana churches, then as Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Albany, GA. During his tenure at St. Paul’s, he enrolled in Sewanee’s summer graduate program and received a Master of Sacred Theology degree (STM). “I got my STM in 1976, which is exactly 10 years before my daughter graduated from Sewanee,” he recalls. Gayle’s thesis was titled America and Theology in the 1960s, and he notes, “I still bring it out and read it every now and then, for fun.”

After seven years at St. Paul’s, Gayle accepted a call to serve as Rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Metairie, LA. “I served there for—believe it or not—27-and-a-half years,” he says. In 2004, at age 65, he retired—or attempted to. Six months of leisure time turned out to be plenty, and in January 2005 he took a position as part-time Priest Associate at Christ Church Cathedral in New Orleans. He remained there for the next 13 years. “I flunked retirement,” he jokes.

The longevity of Gayle’s generosity to Sewanee rivals the length of his career—as of this year, he has supported the University for 27 consecutive years, and 38 years in total. This impressive giving streak places him in Sewanee’s Fideles Society, composed of donors who have made a gift for 25+ years. As a donor with a planned gift, he is also part of the University’s Charlotte Manigault Society. “I just love everything about Sewanee. It’s a special place to me,” he says. “I have great affection for the campus and for the progress that the School of Theology continues to make.”

Gayle with his daughter, Betsy Gayle Fox, C'86

Deborah S. Vaughn, P’20, Sewanee’s Vice President for University Relations, says Gayle’s commitment to Sewanee is both inspiring and humbling. “It’s truly amazing to think about the difference that Father Gayle has made for our Sewanee community, through his decades of giving back,” she says. The Rev. Casey Perkins, T’22, Director of Annual Giving for the School of Theology, adds, “Gedge’s investments in our seminary have unquestionably strengthened the Episcopal faith, by making it easier for students from all walks of life to answer God’s call to ministry.”

Gayle says he won’t make it back to the Mountain for his 60th reunion this fall, but he did attend his 50th reunion in 2013. He has also enjoyed seeing his daughter, Betsy Gayle Fox, C’86, and granddaughters, Ashley, C’19, and Olivia, C’21, Fox, graduate from Sewanee. He fondly remembers taking Betsy to tour colleges during her senior year of high school. “We left New Orleans and went to Vanderbilt, which I was very impressed with,” he says. “We then went to Sewanee, and Betsy stayed overnight with a few students. We were due to visit Emory University the next day—my grandfather had gone to dental school there. I went to pick Betsy up, and she said, ‘Daddy, cancel Emory. I’m coming to Sewanee.’ True story!”

To learn more about supporting the School of Theology with an individual or parish gift, please contact the Rev. Casey Perkins, T’22, Director of Annual Giving, at casey.perkins@sewanee.edu or 931.598.1316. For more information about planned giving, contact Allison Cardwell, Director of Gift Planning, at aacardwe@sewanee.edu or 931.598.1751.