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HUNTINGTON — In the final month of his presidency, Marshall University’s outgoing president Jerome Gilbert said leading the institution has been the pinnacle of his career.

Gilbert gave the outgoing statement during the university’s Board of Governors meeting Thursday, which was his last in the president’s seat.

He announced earlier this year he would not seek a contract extension in summer 2022, citing personal and professional reasons.

The board named Kenova native Brad Smith as Gilbert’s successor in October after a months-long search to fill the position. At the first of the year, Gilbert will transition into a part-time consulting position for Smith.

Gilbert’s farewells continued Friday at Drinko Library on campus, where a reception was held for students, faculty and community members to say their goodbyes. Gilbert connected with students directly over the past five years through appearances at both athletic and academic events, where he was always willing to take a photo with those who asked.

During Thursday’s board meeting, Gilbert said leading Marshall was the pinnacle of his 39-year career in higher education, noting that if not for his love of the students, he would not have stayed in the field as long as he did.

“I always woke up every day with anticipation, and I could not wait to go to work,” he said.

Gilbert said it wasn’t always easy to be a college president, but it’s nothing he hadn’t faced in other positions. In the end, it’s always been rewarding, he said, noting he will cherish memories of the students and staff.

“The driving force in all my years in higher education has been the pursuit of excellence in all that I do. That was instilled in me by my parents and my teachers in my formative years,” he said. “And that has grown steadily over time.”

He said he hopes those he led at Marshall have learned to look beyond being average and to set their hopes high.

When Gilbert was hired, he saw Marshall as a good university with potential to be great, he said. Under his watch, the pharmacy and business programs have grown into new buildings, the aviation program was created, diversity grew and several accomplishments were made by Marshall Athletics — including an NCAA National Championship title in soccer, among other successes.

“I think I can say without being modest that things have gotten better compared to the time when I first arrived,” he said.

Gilbert admitted he had a few regrets on decisions made under his tenure and in hindsight maybe they should have gone the other way, but in quoting Frank Sinatra’s song “My Way,” he said, “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again too few to mention.”

“But I am totally comfortable that in every case at the time I did what I thought was best for Marshall University without thoughts of personal gain,” he said.

BOG Chairman Patrick Farrell applauded Gilbert for his success as president, especially in navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, for which there was no roadmap. Gilbert said Smith has the potential to improve upon what he has built at Marshall and will do his best to make that happen.

Two things are of utmost importance to Marshall’s future, he said — increasing enrollment and employee salaries.

“May God continue to bless Marshall University,” he said.

Courtney Hessler is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch, covering police and courts. Follow her on Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.

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