Gary Neils

Although they took place nearly 16 years ago, I still remember vividly my interviews to be Head of Winchester Thurston School.  The role of School Head is multi-faceted: there is academic leadership, oversight of student affairs, human resources, program development, finance and budgeting, physical plant, and community relations, to name just a few. So many different people asked me many questions, but the one question that I was convinced had doomed my candidacy pertained to my experience as a fundraiser, because I didn’t have very much experience.

I can only speculate that the search committee saw me as having potential, because they still hired me. And soon I found myself gaining “on the job experience,” raising money to support WT.

Looking back, I have to say fundraising became one of the more pleasurable aspects of the job. It has allowed me to have meaningful conversations with prospective contributors to the school, to hear personal stories from parents, trustees, alums, and foundation directors about the difference they want to make for WT and our students.

These conversations have been beautiful opportunities to hear the stories of their lives. I have learned so much about WT—about legendary teachers, about lifelong friendships, and about students who found a true calling, internalized an important ethos, struggled through challenges, or mastered a subject in ways that fundamentally shaped their career.  Even better, these early dialogues often evolved into lasting friendships punctuated by ongoing conversations; the most satisfying have been the ones in which I’ve had the honor of sharing with these friends how their support has impacted our students and the school.

Thursday, April 13, 2017, will remain one of the most memorable moments of my career in philanthropy at WT. On that day, the Main Building on Winchester Thurston’s City Campus was named Molloy Posner Hall.  This joyful dedication was an expression of gratitude to Anne Molloy and Henry Posner III for their extraordinary gifts of time, talent, and treasure.

The remarkable progress that WT has experienced in recent years has paralleled Henry and Anne’s generosity and leadership.  Henry became a member of the Board of Trustees in 1998 and has actively served for 19 years, including four years as Board Chair.

Their support has been extraordinary and transformational, and like that of many others, it is also grounded in their personal stories. When I arrived as Head in 2002, Anne and Henry were WT parents, and had been since 1993, when their daughter Hannah ’06 entered kindergarten; Ida ’08 entered in 1996, and Gus A’11 in 1998. When Henry was a student in high school he believed that some of the most interesting people he knew in Pittsburgh were Winchester Thurston students, and he wanted his children to attend the school that produced such interesting people. For her part, when Anne saw how adaptable WT is to the varying needs, personalities, and learning styles of each student, she knew it was the right choice for their family.

Anne and Henry serve as examples of the impact that philanthropy can have on a school. Today our students and faculty have better facilities for learning, and many students attend WT who would not have been able to afford to without financial aid support. Moreover, there are others who have stepped forward to give because of the example Henry and Anne have set. Their giving underscores the importance of relationships and community, two hallmarks of WT, and two highlights of my experience as a WT fundraiser.

This support not only sustains WT, it strengthens our community as a place of active engagement, of investment.

Anne and Henry are not alone in their philanthropy. Every year, parents, grandparents, alums, trustees, employees, and friends of WT come forward with gifts to the WT Fund. Many have contributed to important capital campaigns that have allowed us to enhance our facilities and build new facilities, and to grow our endowment so that we have permanent funds for faculty development, financial aid, City as Our Campus℠, and other important programs. This support not only sustains WT, it strengthens our community as a place of active engagement, of investment.

Let me take this opportunity to express my deepest appreciation to those of you who continue to support the mission of WT. Your relationship to WT is deeply meaningful and without you we would not be experiencing the kinds of unprecedented success that continues to drive us forward.