March 20, 2017
Dr. Virginia (Jenny) Gauld was the epitome of a YWoman. A trailblazer, a tireless advocate and a visionary, Gauld, who passed away March 14 after a brief illness, was a friend to all.
The first female vice president at The University of Alabama at Birmingham, Gauld started her academic career in 1967 as a first-grade teacher. She retired from UAB in 2006 as Vice President of Student Affairs. Despite the demands of her profession, Gauld always made time to better her community.
Yolanda Sullivan, CEO of YWCA Central Alabama, and Suzanne Durham, who served as CEO of the YW for 34 years before retiring in 2013, recently reflected on Gauld’s legacy together.
“The world is a better place because Jenny was in it,” Sullivan said. “We will probably never know the full scope of her impact because it is so far-reaching. She was a mentor to me and so many others, and her heart for the women, children and families served by the YWCA was unmatched. Jenny had a life well-spent.”
Gauld joined the YWCA’s Board in 1986 when the Family Violence Project came under the YW’s umbrella. In 1990, she became the first woman who worked outside of the home to serve as Board President, and she remained an active volunteer with the agency until her death.
In 1996 and again in 2006, Gauld co-chaired two capital campaigns for the agency. Together, they raised nearly $30 million, allowing the YW to refurbish its downtown building and expand programming.
“I like to say that for someone who had no sense of direction, Jenny sure did know how to move things forward,” Durham said. “She was a dreamer, she always had a vision, and when she saw something that needed to be done, she figured out a way to do it.”
After her retirement, Gauld and her husband, Ernie, moved full-time to Pell City and she was instrumental in expanding the YWCA's domestic violence services to St. Clair and Blount counties. “We wanted to name our shelter in St. Clair County after her, but Jenny wouldn’t allow it because she didn’t want survivors to have to say, ‘I live in Jenny’s Place,’” Durham said. “We named it Our Place in her honor instead.”
After serving as co-chair of the YW’s first Purse & Passion Luncheon, Gauld brought that very successful model to St. Clair County in 2009. Since then, Purse & Passion St. Clair County has raised nearly $500,000 in vital funding to support Our Place. Gauld was honored for her commitment at last year’s luncheon.
“Jenny felt strongly that no one in her community should live in fear,” Sullivan said. “It is because of her leadership, her compassion and her determination that domestic violence victims in St. Clair County can find help, hope and healing.
A memorial service will be held to honor Gauld's life on April 29 at 2 p.m. at the Beacon, First United Methodist Church, 2200 3rd Avenue North, Pell City, AL. The family has requested that memorial gifts be given to the YWCA and First United Methodist Church in Pell City.