St Pete is a city of hidden gems. Many of those treasures are living in houses and apartments throughout the community and it's always a wonderful a-ha moment when we discover one. The Gilberts aren't necessarily hidden, but they truly are gems. For years now, they've been infusing St Pete with their sophisticated sensibilities through board memberships, charitable giving and, perhaps most notably, the annual St Petersburg Celebration of the Arts. The Catalyst partnered with the art power couple for this year's celebration and it was a joy and a privilege at every turn. Press the play arrow to the left to enjoy a little window into the world of Gordon and Michele Gilbert.
Years in St. Pete
Gordon: Oh, I’ve been in St. Petersburg about 56 years. Michele: And I, only six years.
Organizations involved in
Gordon: I’m on the board of directors of the Florida Orchestra. I’ve been on the board of trustees of the Museum of Fine Arts until last month, because of term limits. I’ve been a long-time member of the Harvard Club of the west coast of Florida. I’ve also been a director of the Harvard Alumni Association. And I am a member of the Collections Committee of the Harvard Art Museums. And I’m also on the board of trustees of the New York University Langone Medical Centre.
Michele: I’m on the St. Petersburg Opera Board. And also, the board of the Collectors’ Circle of the Museum of Fine Arts. Since I come from Manhattan, I’m Chair of the Archaeology Committee at the National Arts Club. And on the Woman’s Organization Board of Stephen Royce Free Synagogue. And on the American Research Centre in Egypt’s Presidential Advisory Council. Of course, we’re both on the Celebration of the Arts as founders and organizers.
What gets you out of bed every day?
Gordon: The thing that drives me out of bed is I have a lot to do during the day. I usually have more to do than I can comprehend, I can achieve. And this gets me up early, but my bulldog has to go out. So, that’s my actual reason for leaping from bed each morning.
Why St. Pete?
Gordon: In 1965, when I came here, I had been an assistant professor of neurology at Yale. And I thought I would like to spend a year trying private practice somewhere just to compare it with the research and teaching that I was doing at Yale. I chose St. Petersburg, because I had been coming here since I was 13 years old. My aunt and uncle owned a motel on St. Pete beach. It was for me, a place of pleasure, my summers. So, when it came time to choose a place, to open a practice in neurology, I chose St. Petersburg. Also, it helped that there had never been a neurologist in St. Petersburg, until I came. And so, it was wide open for a neurologist as long as I could let the practicing doctors know what it was a neurologist actually did.
Michele: And for me, I came to St. Petersburg approximately six years ago when Gordon and I were getting married.
What is one habit that you keep?
Gordon: I learned in the Airforce. I was a captain in the Airforce for two years as a neurologist at Travis Airport Space. They made us perform daily the Royal Canadian Airforce exercises. And while it was rather tedious when I was in the air force, once I got out and saw myself deteriorating physically, I resumed doing the Royal Canadian Airforce exercises and have continued that all the rest of my life. I think it’s kept me in better condition than I might otherwise have been. And it’s been a very important element in my life.
Michele: I don’t have any real habits that I keep. I think that each stage should be an adventure, but I do think we should make the world better than we found it. The closest I come to a habit is Saturday night, is date night. And I believe, even if one is in quarantine of getting dressed up and having dinner delivered so we can enjoy ourselves. And of course, we discovered some programs where you have dance music. And that’s been a lot of fun, but that’s Saturday night again.
Who are some people that influence you?
Gordon: I think of the two major professors that I studied neurology under. One was Gilbert Glaser, a professor of Neurology at Yale. And the other Derek Denny-Brown, professor of neurology at Harvard. And I had – my residency said Harvard and Yale. So, I really learned a lot from both of them, including approaches to living, as well as approaches to patients.
Michele: To me, the people who have influenced me have been my family. My mother was a really great lady. She was president of her Local League of Women Voters and the library board. And she always had great style. She was very sympathetic to people. And my aunt probably was similar. My grandmothers were wonderful. And they felt there was nothing I couldn’t do. One was the founder and president for over 40 years of the Hebrew Charity Assistance. And my other grandmother who was a Polish peasant gave me my energy. And I don’t think I could get through life without that. Also, there have been so many people in St. Petersburg that have influenced us, but to mention them would be accidentally to leave someone else.
What is one piece of insight - a book, methodology, practice - that you would share with our readers?
Gordon: A very important book for me was Sir William Osler’s small book called ‘A Way of Life’ which emphasizes living your life in day-tight compartments, concentrating on the present, paying little attention to the past or the future. Doing your best each day.
Michele: For me, I was a professor of ancient and renaissance art history in New York when September 11th occurred. Besides the fact of that which was so frightening, I was horrified by the intolerance that I saw abounding. I soon retired after teaching for over 25 years, and founded the Archaeology Committee at the National Arts Club. Archaeology as a discipline stresses shared humanity, with the visual beauties being called material culture. And I thought it was important to become part of the solution. I just want to say that with COVID and the treasonous insurrections in Washington, I think it’s very important to have a base line of understanding of the humanities and culture for all people.
What is one thing you wish you knew about your work 3 years ago?
Gordon: Michele and I started the St. Petersburg Celebration of the Arts three years ago. When we began, we had little knowledge of how the various organizations in the city would respond to the idea of a common theme for all of them to follow during the month of February. And we run the celebration of the arts throughout the month of February. It turned out that we have had very strong backing by some of the most important cultural organizations in the city. And that has been a real plus that we did not necessarily expect to experience. So, I would say the strong cooperation that we have had from such as the Florida Orchestra, the St. Petersburg Opera Company, it’s been very satisfying. And if we had known that was going to happen, we would have started with even greater enthusiasm.
Michele: To me, the answer is slightly different. I didn’t realize the extraordinary amount of work that it entailed, because Gordon and I are basically doing everything together. We do have a wonderful designer, but what I also found very special was, working with so many creative people and organizations, this year is clearly different because of COVID.
Gordon: Well, we’re going to continue the St. Petersburg Celebration of the Arts in an annual fashion, every February. We anticipate that it’s going to grow. We welcome all organizations that are interested in our theme for the particular year. And there should be a lot of organizations joining in as we continue to do our February thing.
Michele: I concur with what Gordon said. And we’re looking forward to St. Petersburg opening up. We’ve started to re-explore this city of the arts. And I think it’s very extraordinary to be here.