Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

July 19, 2006:



Robert B. Gibby ’36Robert B. Gibby ’36 helped create and distribute a fifth-grade curriculum unit on George Washington.

William SommerfieldWashington impersonator William Sommerfield, an honorary member of the Class of 1936, leads the Old Guard at the P-rade last month. (Beverly Schaefer (left); Kevin Birch)

Teaching George Washington
Robert Budd Gibby ’36 helps educate youth

Robert B. Gibby ’36 and George Washington have some things in common. They both lay claim to the title of “president” — Washington of the country, and Gibby of the Class of 1936. They share agricultural leanings — Washington was a farmer, and Gibby has carried on Washington’s tradition at Princeton. He spearheaded the establishment of the Washington Memorial Garden behind Maclean House in 1999, complete with plants descended from those growing at Mount Vernon.

And both men have created lasting legacies. To ensure that all public school students in the United States learn about their first president, Gibby, working with the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, created in 1989 a fifth-grade curriculum unit featuring a 30-minute video, The Life of George Washington, narrated by Bill Bradley ’65. Every elementary school with a fifth grade throughout the nation is now provided with the video, courtesy of Mount Vernon.

Gibby’s fascination with the founding father began in 1949, Gibby says, when he started collecting historic prints of Washington. Over the years, his hobby grew to include more than 200 prints, paintings, and etchings. Gibby regularly lectured on the prints and the person they portray. He donated his collection to Mount Vernon in 1984.

Around that time, Gibby became aware of the lack of in-depth information on Washington’s life in elementary school textbooks. So he joined forces with Mount Vernon to develop the fifth-grade curriculum. He organized fundraising efforts to support the making of the video and its distribution to every state. While teachers are not obligated to use the video, most do. Princeton alumni contributed to the effort to fund the project, he says, with the Class of 1936 footing the bill for Washington State. “It’s important that the youth know about the honesty, integrity, and moral character exemplified by George Washington,” says Gibby, who owned an office furniture business based in New York City and today lives in Hightstown, N.J.

Gibby’s passion for Washington seems to have permeated the Class of 1936. The class donated the Washington Memorial Garden to the University, and William Sommerfield, of Philadelphia, who is known as the historical interpreter of George Washington, is an honorary member of the class. Sommerfield led the Old Guard at the P-rade this year.

It’s not just the youth that Gibby seeks to educate, however. He wants his fellow alumni to realize Washington’s connection with Old Nassau. In 1777 Gen. Washington drove the British from Nassau Hall, and in 1783 he met with the Continental Congress in Nassau Hall and attended Commencement.

“Washington had a greater relationship with Princeton than with any other university in the United States,” says Gibby.

By Hilary Parker ’01

Hilary Parker ’01 is a freelance writer in Princeton.