Saturday, February 24, 2024

W&M remembers alumnus John Gerdelman: Family man, philanthropist, and ‘servant leader’

The College of William & Mary memorialize John Gerdelman, 67, for his lifelong commitment and contributions to the university. (WYDaily/Courtesy Emily Ridjaneck)
The College of William & Mary remembers John Gerdelman (1952-2020) for his lifelong commitment and contributions to the university. (WYDaily/Courtesy Emily Ridjaneck)

Former chairman to the William & Mary Real Estate Foundation Board, and two-term vice chairman to William & Mary’s Board of Visitors, John Gerdelman, has died.

Gerdelman, 67, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) last February and in April 2019 was put into hospice care until his death on Jan. 4.

Even as Gerdelman struggled with his health, his daughter, Emily Ridjaneck, said up until his passing her father had a love for the William & Mary Athletics program, attending at-home Tribe football games last fall and within recent weeks was at a basketball game with his wife, Sue Gerdelman.

“Whatever he was involved in, he was all in,” Ridjaneck said. “Whether that was in work, in passions, hobbies, or experiences with friends, he was there and he was present.”

Legend has it he “never lost a yard” in his position as a fullback on the university’s football team from 1972 to 1974 and according to a 2017 self-authored resume, Gerdelman was the first football athlete to graduate from William & Mary with a chemistry degree in 1975.

Gerdelman met his wife on campus before he’d go on to serve seven years as a Naval aviator and then to a career in telecommunication and internet technology working his way up to becoming the president and CEO of several companies across the nation.

“A hugely successful businessman,” Ridjaneck said about her father who had “a very astute and entrepreneurial spirit,” but at the same time loved being outdoors on his timber farm in Charles City County and found joy serving his alma mater. “It’s sort of that quintessential tying of talent with treasure,” she said.

“William & Mary lost one of our most passionate and generous alumni in John Gerdelman. He impacted so many areas of the university community as a student-athlete, alumnus, board member, leader and friend,” said Katherine A. Rowe, William & Mary president. “John loved being part of William & Mary and we loved being part of his family. Our hearts go out to John’s beloved wife, Sue, his children and entire extended family.”

W&M conferred upon John Gerdelman '75 an honorary degree, recognizing his lifelong commitment and contributions to the university. Overseeing the event were President Katherine Rowe, Rector John Littel, and Chancellor Robert Gates '64. (WYDaily/Courtesy the College of William & Mary)
W&M conferred upon John Gerdelman ’75 an honorary degree, recognizing his lifelong commitment and contributions to the university. Overseeing the event were President Katherine Rowe, Rector John Littel, and Chancellor Robert Gates ’64. (WYDaily/Courtesy the College of William & Mary)

Last May, Gerdelman was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree and was recognized for his and his wife’s contributions to the school through service and philanthropic initiatives. Matthew Lambert, vice president for University Advancement, said he’ll leave the legacy of a “servant leader.”

“Someone who steps forward to take on a leadership role that is bigger than themselves and to put their personal ego to the side,” Lambert said. “I would say John was always willing to put aside everything to help William & Mary, to help for the greater good whether that be with our students, with our faculty, with our boards, his legacy will be an enormous one of servant leadership.”

Gerdelman served as a board member for the Northern Virginia Technology Council, on the Campaign for the William & Mary Steering Committee, was chairman for the William & Mary Foundation, and in 2007 became vice rector according to the college’s website.

The William & Mary Alumni Association awarded Gerdelman the Alumni Service Award in 2001 and the Alumni Medallion in 2005.

He was also appointed by the governor to serve on the State Council for Higher Education and served on boards for companies and corporations, including Local Voice Media.

John Gerdelman is survived by his wife, Sue, daughter, Emily Ridjaneck, son, Mark Gerdelman, and three grandsons, Ryland, Cooper, and Benjamin.

A visitation will be held at Bucktrout Funeral Home, 4124 Ironbound Road Wednesday, Jan. 15 at 5 p.m. followed by a funeral service and reception at St. Bede Catholic Church, 3686 Ironbound Road on Jan. 16 at 1 p.m.

He’ll be laid to rest in a private ceremony in the William & Mary Memorial Garden.

“The William & Mary family is our family, there’s no other way to say it,” Ridjaneck said.

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