About 15 years ago, Genevieve "Vieve" Gore tacked a note to the company bulletin board announcing the retirement of Bill and Vieve Gore.
On the appointed date, the Gores walked out of their Newark, Del., corporation into the golden years of retirement. The Gores headed the flourishing, multinational W.L. Gore & Associates Inc., manufacturer of myriad products but best-known for GORE-TEX, chemically treated fabric that protects against the elements."Bill and Vieve Gore went to Africa. We saw the wild animals. We did the things we said we always wanted to do. About two months later we came back to work and I took the (retirement) notice down off the board," Vieve Gore said.
Today, at age 77, Vieve Gore puts in a full day at the Delaware plant every day that she isn't traveling to the company's far-flung plants. W.L. Gore & Associates Inc. has 39 plants worldwide and more than 5,000 employees. As the firm's personnel coordinator, who is deeply involved in determining associate compensation, Vieve Gore has circled the globe 27 times.
On Nov. 8, she visited the company's manufacturing site in Germany, presenting an antique pitcher, made by German immigrants in America, to commemorate the company's 25 years in Germany.
Then she was off to Saudi Arabia for 10 days with Will Steger, who led the International Trans-Antarctica Expedition in 1989. The quest - the first unmechanized traverse of Antarctica - entailed six men from six countries traveling across Antarctica on skis and by dog sled. It took them seven months.
Gore helped finance the $11 million adventure as did the Soviet Union and others. The explorers equipment included GORE-TEX.
She plans to spend December in Ely, Minn., where Steger breeds the sled dogs.
Although he is often in her conversation, Bill Gore, her husband of more than 50 years, is no longer living. He died unexpectedly in 1986.
But as a living memorial to her lifelong partner, Utah native Vieve Gore donated $7 million last month to Westminster College, Bill's alma mater.
"I knew he had a soft spot for Westminster and if this thing had been reversed, it's what he would have done. I feel so lucky that I'm in a position I could do it. The kids, after all, are our future," she said.
The $7 million isn't the only financial tribute paid to Westminster by the Gores. After Bill died, the Gores' daughter, Ginger Giovale, also a Westminster alumna and chairwoman of the college's board of trustees, called President Charles Dick.
"She said they wanted to do something for Dad, so I went down to Flagstaff, Ariz., (where Giovale heads a Gore plant) and we talked," Dick reported.
That something turned into the $1.8 million Bill and Vieve Gore Business Building. "They did everything. They furnished it right down to the wastebaskets," Dick said.
When Vieve Gore saw the finished tribute to her husband, Dick reported, she became so excited she said she wanted to do something more. In February '89, Dick traveled to Delaware to start negotiations with Gore's attorneys and CPAs for the $7 million gift.
In the meantime, Giovale and her mother also donated $2 million to the college's ongoing capital campaign.
In the past three years, the Gores' largesse to Westminster has totaled more than $11 million.
The college received the $7 million gift in July 1990 but had to keep it a secret until October when Vieve Gore could finally clear a spot in her busy schedule for a visit to her hometown.
Such generosity hasn't gone unnoticed. Since the Oct. 19 announcement, colleges across the country have their hands out to her. She has numerous requests for money. Just the other day she received one from a Kentucky school that she'd never heard of.
"Some of the letters are very nice, but some are almost demanding," she said.
Gore, an East High School graduate and University of Utah alumna, didn't always possess the kind of wealth that would bring a college to her on bended knee.
In 1958, when Bill was 45 and two of their five children were already in college, the Gores risked their financial future to start W.L. Gore & Associates Inc. in their basement.
Bill Gore, who had been a research chemist with DuPont for 17 years, had ideas for the application of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), commonly known as Teflon. He was convinced of the feasibility of using PTFE in insulating electrical wiring. A suggestion by his son, Bob, led to making ribbon cable with PTFE.
DuPont wasn't interested in producing the ribbon cable.
The Gores decided to do it on their own. Bill and Vieve Gore sat down and figured what money they could find by mortgaging their home and using their savings.
"We scrapped $90,000 together and we figured we could make it two years. We barely made it," she remembered.
A close-knit family, they held a family council with the children to weigh the risks of launching a new business. "We thought this was a risk for them as well as for us," she said.
They put their whole lives into the operation from day one. "My parents came out and took over the household, planted the garden, put up fruits, did the shopping, took care of the children," Gore said.
Their kitchen was turned into a workshop and there were three shifts of people and machines working in the basement. "We had these noisy machines that kept us awake," she said.
It took almost the entire two years, but the Gores finally had their first large sale of ribbon cable. It was to Denver Waterworks.
That sale was large enough to allow them to buy the property where their Delaware plant still operates.
Within the firm's first decade, Gore ribbon cable went to the moon on a seismograph. "It's still up there and still sending back signals," she said.
Since then, the firm has developed numerous other PTFE applications in a wide range of fields.
GORE-TEX, the waterproof, breathable fabric used in outdoor equipment from jackets and tents to NASA spacesuits, didn't come along until the 1970s.
Vieve Gore sewed the first tent of GORE-TEX for the family's annual summer backpacking trip to Wyoming's Wind River Range. An outdoors family, the Gores have hiked in Wyoming every summer since 1953.
Vieve Gore still takes that hiking trip every year. She lists mountain climbing as a hobby on her resume. She keeps in shape by walking a mile to work daily and a half mile down a country road to her mailbox, and by swimming regularly.
Westminster's president praises his school's No. 1 benefactress as the down-to-earth person evidenced by such activities.
"She is warm, very unassuming, easy and wonderful to work with. A fantastic woman," he said.
Gore sees no changes ahead for her, from the mountain climbing to the long hours at the company she founded with her husband. Since the bulletin-board notice more than a decade ago, thoughts of retirement never cross her mind.