When Theo Gregory was a youngster, he distinctly remembers a moment that helped put him on a path to success. His mom pointed to a door. He walked through. It doesn’t get much more symbolic than that. This door was in South Carolina. It said ‘Men” on the front. There were two other options. He wouldn’t have gone in the one marked “Women.” But he could have gone, like so many others, through the one labeled “Colored.”
Gregory recounted this story last week, on the night before he received an honorary doctorate from Johnson and Wales University in Denver. He earned the honor because of the lifetime he has spent helping others on their pathway to hope, as he eloquently phrased the greater purpose behind the work that he does every day.
As his colleagues, we see that every day. The real thrill was learning more about a person that we thought we knew well, because Gregory’s pathway to hope has the kinds of twists and turns that make for a good novel.
Fast forward from the childhood moment of truth to the end of his college football career at Savannah State College. He is walking off the field when a friend hands him an application. It is to become a graduate student at Ohio State. He doesn’t have plans yet, so he fills it out and the next fall, finds himself in Columbus.
It made sense that he would seek out the football stadium on one of those first Saturdays, just as it made sense to the security guard who saw him and pointed this young, athletic African-American man to the locker room. And while he wasn’t a player, he did make sure that this door, too, helped pave his own path to success. He worked with the team and the athletic department to make sure that the student athletes didn’t abandon the academics in favor of the athletics.
Gregory continued to do that in other locales across the country, first at University of Nevada Las Vegas, and then at the University of Colorado-Boulder. As an assistant athletic director at CU, he helped a national championship-winning football team set new records for academic achievement and graduation rates.
He was running the athletic department at University of Colorado-Colorado Springs more than a decade ago when he met El Pomar Chairman and CEO Bill Hybl on a golf course. The next morning, Gregory was in his office when the phone rang. It was Hybl calling to offer him a job that, at that point, had no description. It didn’t take long for Gregory to decide that this was another door beckoning. By noon he had tendered his resignation at UCCS.
We know the rest of the story pretty well at El Pomar. Gregory does an amazing job of connecting leaders with training to heighten their effectiveness. He then helps those leaders broaden their impact by serving on nonprofit boards and commissions. He does it all through El Pomar’s Emerging Leaders Development Program, which he built into a shining example of the success people can have if they are pointed to the right door. I knew that from watching the program grow and develop. What I didn’t know I learned the other night at that dinner. He built that program based on his hard work and hands-on, practical experience.