Some people are destined to make history. Others are content to sit on the sidelines. As an undergraduate, Joel Gardner (Col ’70, Law ’74) was on the front lines during four of the most tumultuous years in the University’s recent history. After graduating from the University, he served on active duty with the U.S. Army Security Agency before enrolling in UVA’s School of Law. While there, he was elected to the Student Council and the editorial board of the Virginia Law Review.
The New York City native spent his career on Wall Street, first as a litigator and a mergers and acquisitions lawyer, and then as an investment banker at a series of boutique firms. Now retired, he and his wife, Gayle, split their time between Florida and Charlottesville.
Gardner has spent the last two years working on a memoir of his undergraduate years at UVA, titled “From Rebel Yell to Revolution: My Four Years at UVA 1966-1970.” The book, which he considers “a love story about the University,” is a keen observation of daily student life in the 1960s and the transformative events that occurred during that time. As an alumnus, parent, and volunteer, Gardner’s love for UVA remains undiminished. He currently serves on the Jeffersonian Grounds Initiative Board.
Did you ever live on the Lawn?
I lived in the Crackerbox, which was then considered part of the Lawn. It was very quiet, a little bit out of the way, but it was only two minutes from the Lawn. I really didn’t know much about it. When my prospective roommate and I walked over there, I saw that the most important benefit of living in the Crackerbox was that it was about 10 feet from the closest bathroom. We also had use of the lower garden of Pavilion X. It was almost like having your own backyard.
You have a section in your book about the Lawn. Can you quote from it?
This patch of land is emblazoned in the heart and mind of every true Wahoo. I have walked the Lawn hundreds, if not thousands, of times in my seven years as a student, two stints as a UVA parent, 40-plus years as an alum, and now as a part-time resident of Charlottesville. But each time I approach the Academical Village, walking down an alley bordered by Mr. Jefferson’s famous serpentine walls, and emerge on the verdant splendor of the Lawn, I still find myself catching my breath as I try to digest the quiet magnificence of this amazing place. In a university that now has over 20,000 students, there is still a serene, almost bucolic quality to the Lawn—an escape from the “slings and arrows” of the outside world.
You were involved in a preservation effort as a student. Can you describe what happened?
During my second year as an undergraduate, the administration announced that it was turning the McIntire Amphitheatre into a parking lot. Bryan Hall did not exist at the time, and the whole area behind the amphitheatre was a parking lot, so they decided to take out the grass infield of McIntire and make it a parking lot as well. When I came back to law school after serving on active duty in the army, I was elected to the Student Council. One of the first things I did was to propose a resolution to bring back the grass infield, and that helped stir up an enormous amount of protest against what had been done. They decided shortly thereafter to return McIntire to its original state. I was very pleased at being able to spearhead that.
Note: Part two of Joel Gardner’s interview will run in the fall issue of the JGI newsletter.