By Charlene Winters, Brigham Young University Alumni Magazine Published: Fall 1998
If BYU’s Alumni Association president were to open a vein, his blood would probably run blue. That’s because Paul E. Gilbert has been associated with BYU throughout his life and says he still feels inspired and thrilled every time he comes to campus.
The Phoenix-based attorney’s affiliation began in childhood when he attended BY Elementary, BY Junior High, and BY High School. He then attended BYU as a history major and served as student body president. His father, who died while Gilbert was a child, was a BYU assistant football coach, and his second father was a BYU dean. The roots go even deeper. His mother taught English at BY High, all seven of his brothers and sisters have attended BYU, and the tradition is continuing with his own children.
“My wife Susan and I have consistently brought our children to Provo for Homecoming to create a feeling of excitement about coming to this fine school,” he says. “Two of my children have already graduated from BYU, another is attending the university, and my last child, a senior in high school, plans to attend BYU.
“That will make us four for four,” he adds. “We do believe in free agency in our home. I have told my children they could attend whatever college they wanted, but I have always added that BYU was paid for.”
Although Gilbert attended the University of California, Berkeley, for his law degree, he says that, despite receiving a very good education there and forming some close and lasting friendships, his feelings toward UC Berkeley don’t approach the depth of his commitment to BYU.
“I think my alliance to BYU is closely akin to my feelings and support for the LDS Church,” he explains. I also think BYU is such a unique institution that it engenders uncommon loyalty. We feel a real bond with our fellow graduates because of our common goal–and that again comes back to the Church. We are more united as a student body in our goals and aspirations than any other student body in the world.”
“Paul Gilbert is a natural choice for alumni board president,” says George Bowie, executive director of the Alumni Association and an assistant advancement vice president. “He has consistently demonstrated his commitment to BYU and his willingness to help the university in any way.”
When he graduated from BYU in 1968, Gilbert says he left with a feeling of profound joy for the BYU experience and says that whenever he steps on campus, it floods him with pleasant and treasured memories.
“Frankly, I’m always a bit proud to know that I am affiliated with a university that is doing great things and that just gets better and better with time,” he says.
He acknowledges that BYU has undergone major changes in the 30 years since he was a student, but he believes the things that make him love and appreciate BYU have stayed constant.
“BYU continues to be run by an inspired board of trustees with rigorous adherence to Church standards. It remains full of clean-cut young people who believe as I do and who are part of the big picture that is changing the world. It also remains a university where real and meaningful truths are being taught across the disciplines. I just have a feeling BYU is playing and will continue to play an even more important role in the future in helping spread the influence and message of the gospel.”
Even after leaving BYU, Gilbert continued to serve the university. His deceptively simple philosophy about volunteer service–“I do what I am asked”–belies his deep commitment not only to BYU but also to causes in Arizona, where he serves on the board of the John C. Lincoln Foundation (one of the larger hospitals in Phoenix) and the National Conference of Christians and Jews.
“I believe in service,” he says. “I have been an admissions advisor since I was BYU student body president. I helped recruit students when I was a senior there. I helped with fundraising, and I served with the alumni. I have also been a leader of BYU’s alumni chapter in Phoenix.”
Gilbert encourages participation in regional chapters as a way of remaining involved with BYU. “I think many alumni are fiercely loyal to BYU and want to do something that links them to the university,” he says. “Yet they may not know how to do it or where to go. My answer to that question is to join and participate in local chapters.”
Gilbert’s goals as BYU Alumni Association president–a position he will hold through 1999–are many. He looks to the chapters to help coordinate with the BYU Management Society, BYU Law Society, Collegium Aesculapium, and other BYU groups. He wants to encourage regional scholarships to help worthy students who otherwise could not afford to attend BYU. He would like to see chapters participate in community activities that raise awareness about BYU. And he supports chapters as a major force in BYU’s capital campaign fund-raising efforts.
Additionally, he wants to see alumni assist each other in finding jobs. “We have a placement office–you can find it under the Alumni Association’s Web site on the Internet. Alumni should help each other.”
Particularly important to him during his tenure, he says, is to find ways to help alumni understand that the Alumni Association is their advocate and representative to BYU.
A strong believer in community involvement, Gilbert counts his work with the Desert Mission Food Bank for the Lincoln Foundation board as one of his most fulfilling assignments outside of his work with BYU.
“This is a place where people come for food,” he explains. “It is designed to help them overcome a short-term problem.” The food bank began in a small building it quickly outgrew, and Gilbert headed a $2.5 million capital campaign to help the organization meet the demand.
“I still remember the day when a divorced mother with three children came in with tears streaming down her face, saying her husband had left and she did not know how she could take care of her family. I immediately could see the need for the food bank. We now have a large warehouse and a large distribution faculty. All of us are volunteers, including dentists who donate one day a month to work on children’s teeth. We began the dentistry component after some schools approached us and said some children could not concentrate because their teeth hurt so much.”
Another volunteer position has kept Gilbert busy for 15 years as a member of the board of directors for the National Conference of Christians and Jews. He now serves as chair of the Arizona chapter.
“That group was formed when Al Smith, a Catholic, ran for U.S. president,” Gilbert explains. “A lot of religious prejudice emerged from that election, and the conference began to fight prejudice on a religious basis. Since then the goals have expanded to where we fight prejudice of any type–be it religion, race, sex, or prejudice against the economically disadvantaged. Among our many projects is going into schools to promote religious and racial tolerance. Last year we talked to more than 10,000 students in Arizona.
“We also sponsor a summer camp for high school students called ‘Any Town.’ When they arrive at the camp, we assign them a color–red, brown, or yellow–for a week and help them feel firsthand the effects of discrimination based on skin color. We also work on religious tolerance. Toward the end of the week’s camp, we show them ways to overcome prejudice and help them understand how prejudice starts and what they can do to right it.”
The conference has even defended the LDS faith, Gilbert says. “We did a considerable amount of good work with minimizing the effects of the anti-Mormon filmThe Godmakers. We distributed a lot of information against it, and the people who produced the movie were so mad, they sued us. We won the law suit.”
When not serving BYU and his community, Gilbert works as a law partner in the firm of Beus, Gilbert, and Devitt, which he helped found. Previously, he practiced law with former BYU President Rex E. Lee.