Guy Gardner, President of Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades

He’s also a former NASA astronaut, a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot who flew 177 combat missions in the Vietnam War and a teacher. Not too shabby.

Photo by Jared Castaldi
Photo by Jared Castaldi

Guy S. Gardner knows how to keep busy. The president of Media’s Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades was a NASA astronaut in the ’80s and early ’90s, not to mention a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot who flew 177 combat missions in the Vietnam War. He’s also been a high-school math and physics teacher, and a super-intendent of Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, Ga. He’ll end yet another phase of his productive life when he retires from Williamson this summer.

MLT: What brought you to Williamson?
GG: A headhunter friend recommended it. My wife, Linda, and I hadn’t heard about Williamson, and we certainly weren’t thinking about the possibility of serving at a men’s boarding trade school. But the more we learned about Williamson, the more we fell in love with its noble mission and its people, and the more we were led to become a part of it. Who can resist being part of a program that helps young people from low-income families get a better start on life?

MLT: What’s been your agenda?
GG: Since Williamson is free to its students and takes no federal money, financially we’re totally dependent on contributions from donors. The percentage of Williamson alumni who give financially to their alma mater runs about three times the national average. But the economy changed dramatically. We’ve had to tighten our belts, while still maintaining the level of our graduates.

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MLT: What aspects of your career coincide best with the needs of Williamson?
GG: My board members tell me that Linda and I have been a great match. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is having an appreciation for all the different ways humans think and feel, and how bringing those differences together as a team can create much better results.

MLT: What’s your motivational message to the younger generation?
GG: When I speak to folks about what it’s like to fly in space, I summarize it like this: Riding a rocket is exciting; being weightless is fun; doing good work is meaningful; and looking at the Earth from orbit is awesome. But you don’t have to go to space to have a life that’s exciting, fun, meaningful and awesome.

MLT: What’s your take on success?
GG: Success is taking the gifts and talents you’ve been given (and we all have some), growing and maturing them, and then applying them to make the world a better place.

MLT: How do you pass on your pride for this country?
GG: I’ve always liked the comment Dick Truly made after flying on the second space-shuttle mission. He marveled that, when he looked down at the Earth, he couldn’t see any national boundaries. I’ve learned to be careful when using the word pride. It is, after all, one of the seven deadly sins—and, as C.S. Lewis put it, pride is perhaps at the root of all the others.

Our Best of the Main Line & Western Suburbs Party is July 25!