A Davidson Gentleman, 100 Percent

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Centenarian Blair Gwyn ’33 keeps the faith.

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By John Syme

When Blair Gwyn ’33 came to campus as a freshman, Davidson College was younger than he is today. He’ll be 100 by the time you read this.

He still visits campus often. One hot morning this past September, Gwyn strode up the sidewalk and into the offices of Julia Johnston House.

“Good morning!”

It is a declaration the way he says it, a full-throated Davidson gentleman’s greeting. A strong gait in sharp-pressed khakis carries him over the threshold. He’s here for a visit from home in North Wilkesboro. Earlier in the summer, he traveled to see the kudzu-eating goats on back campus. Soon, he’ll be racking up more countless trips to see his beloved Wildcats play basketball. Today is just because.

Let us be clear: Blair Gwyn ’33 loves Davidson College. The Davidson College of his youth. And the Davidson College of today.

“It doesn’t get too hot for me; let’s go!” he says. Gwyn and a small entourage, including daughter Carolyn Gwyn Bell, board a golf cart for a round of campus gallivanting and reminiscing.

On a bench by Chambers, Gwyn calls up 1929. He was a freshman. Walter Lingle (1929–41) was the college’s new president. Rumple Dorm (1903), with its aftermarket plumbing, loomed where Little (1956) stands now.

Tuition was $268.50. Chambers (1929) was a sparkling new pride and joy, its not-yet-historic bell beckoning 617 young, mostly Presbyterian, mostly Carolinian souls upward and onward, toward the bright promise of their future.

And then, October.

“The world fell apart,” Gwyn says of the Wall Street Crash.

Happily, the world of Davidson stayed together. Gwyn continued his studies and athletic pursuits in track, graduating in 1933. His own future would be built in banking and business and family and faith, always in North Wilkesboro. But first, he’d fight at the Battle of the Bulge, during his stint as an Army staff sergeant.

“Three years, three months, and three days,” he says with a grin. The grin fades as he describes the battle. He pokes the ground of Chambers Lawn with his cane. “We were well aware of the danger.”

Onward. The golf cart jounces onward.

In E.H. Little Library (1974), an impromptu visit with archives staff. Bonus: a chance encounter with one of Gwyn’s latter-day Phi Delta Theta brothers, an African-American student coming down the stairs in a fraternity T-shirt. Gwyn
greets him like an old friend. A brother.

At Baker Sports Complex (1989), Bob McKillop and a clutch of athletics staffers crowd around to chew the fat with Gwyn, one of their favorites. They rib him. One of the guys.

Rolling back across campus toward lunch, Gwyn reflects on Davidson’s first female president, Carol Quillen (2011–).

“I’m for her 100 percent,” again with that full-throated force of pre-determined declaration, he says, so distinctively Davidsonian. “I was on the board of trustees when we voted to go coed, and it was one of the best things we ever did. I think the decision’s proved itself.”

Davidson will be 175 next year. The Davidson of Blair Gwyn’s youth. The Davidson of today.

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