Two Paths, Same Passion: Carol and Gene McGrevin Define Leadership

by John Conroy

Gene McGrevin’s 11th-grade teacher, Mr. Haylen, was rearranging the classroom at Baldwin High School in Whitehall, Pa. Gene was assigned to the seat next to Carol Zord in the back of the room. Gene asked Carol for her phone number and she told him to find it in the phone book. Gene looked her up, called the number, and he and Carol are still together 50 years later.

However, based on their family histories and backgrounds, one could say they weren’t destined to meet.

“Carol was always going to be a teacher,” says Gene. “Her aunt went to Pitt, and her mother was a teacher who had graduated from Pitt in the 1920s, which was remarkable for a woman at that time.”

Carol’s father was cofounder of the Borough of Whitehall and a state legislator, and he often worked with the University of Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, Gene grew up in the Carnegie/Glendale, Pa., area just outside Pittsburgh and had only moved to Whitehall two years earlier. He assumed that he would get a job in a steel mill after high school.

“I grew up in a blue-collar family and around neighbors and friends where no one had gone to college. So when I met Carol, I thought, ‘College? What’s that?’ If it were not for her, I would have never gone,” says Gene.

After graduating from high school, Carol pursued her dream of attending Pitt. “I loved Pitt’s magnificent culture,” she says. “It was really special to be there and have all these professors and learned people sharing their knowledge; I absorbed it like a sponge.”

Carol convinced Gene to go to Pitt, and after he graduated, he pursued a career in marketing and international business by attending the University of Pennsylvania for graduate school. A few years later, the two of them moved to Princeton, N.J., so that Gene could work in New York, N.Y.

“We had one car and Carol was teaching, so she would drop me at the train at 7 a.m. On a good day, my commute was two hours,” he says. “About 20 minutes in, we would go through New Brunswick [N.J.], and there was a company [building] with a sign that said Johnson & Johnson. I used to think, ‘It would be great to get off the train here.’”

Gene spotted an advertisement through the University of Pennsylvania for an assistant product manager in marketing at Johnson & Johnson. He sent in his résumé and was hired, and that is how he initially started in the health care field. Gene truly found his passion at Johnson & Johnson, which shaped his views on how to market to the health care industry as well as how to maintain ethical principles in business. This led Gene to become president, founder, partner, and chair of a variety of companies between the 1970s and the 2000s.

As Gene was discovering his professional purpose in life, Carol was progressing within the education system. She taught at a Philadelphia, Pa., elementary school; then, while teaching in New Jersey, she was inspired by a superintendent to go into school administration. She saw the impact one person could have on the whole school.

Carol eventually became an assistant superintendent of schools and moved into higher education, teaching and professionally focusing on educational leadership at the University of Northern Colorado and Pepperdine University. In 1986, she designed and implemented a principal and leadership center at Texas Christian University that provided a professional learning and support organization for school principals and superintendents.

After having extensive, varied, successful careers, the McGrevins looked back on the institutions and fields that had embraced them. In 1995, they created the Lois Lyden Zord and the Honorable Joseph Zord Jr. Endowed Scholarship and the Dr. Carol and Gene McGrevin Endowed Chair in the School of Education. They also provided seed money for the Ready to Learn Program in the school’s Center for Urban Education. And because of Gene’s health care background, they created the McGrevin Postdoctoral Award and the McGrevin Parkinson’s Disease Research Fund in the School of Medicine.

“When Gene and I went to school, we were helped immensely [by] scholarships,” says Carol. “So we felt that if we could ever donate a scholarship, we would love to pay it forward. When my mom passed away, we thought it would be great to honor her and my dad. And we chose the School of Education because my mom had been at the school as a teacher, and had shaped my life into becoming an educator.”

Gene adds, “It is our belief that through education, we were able to achieve a better life for ourselves and our family. The only way we can solve larger societal issues is through education, because it is the foundation for the rest of your life.”

Carol and Gene aren’t simply paying it forward; they’re still staying active professionally. Carol had worked with the Southern Regional Education Board, an organization with the governors of 16 states on its board. She is currently chair of the board of a nonprofit, ArtsNow, which helps teachers to integrate the arts into other subjects and partners with the Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University, and Savannah College of Art and Design. The Pitt School of Education also honored her with the 2015 Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest alumni award given by the school.

Gene is still engaged in the business world through his investment in smaller start-up companies as a partner at MCG Partners, LLC.

“I am doing less of it because the ones I have invested in never cease to need more capital,” he says. He spends time working with the management team, traveling with sales reps, raising funding, and speaking with hospitals.

“And this is all because of seeing that Johnson & Johnson sign during my train rides to New York,” says Gene. “Some people grow up thinking they are going to be teachers, and then there are other folks like me who make that left turn versus the right one, and it changes your life.”

“Though our careers might seem like different paths, there is a belief around the concept of organizational leadership—Gene from the perspective of the business world, me from the perspective of education,” says Carol. “It comes down to what leadership means, and that conversation can be had across any discipline or industry.”

“And we’ve grown together. I used to be the hammer and Carol was the collaborator,” Gene laughs. “She has taught me that sometimes you need to have good collaboration to get what you want, and I have tried to teach her that she needs to use the hammer sometimes—not on me, of course! I have learned a lot from her, and hopefully she has learned a little bit from me.”

John Conroy is in charge of marketing and communications for the School of Education.