Florida Gulf Coast University lost one of its lower-profile but top-flight teachers and writers to retirement on Jan. 4: Keith Gibson, who has worked in University Marketing & Communications for the past five years.
It was the culmination of a decades-long career as a writer, editor, mentor and coach, the majority of which took place in Southwest Florida. The Pittsburgh native and graduate of Kent State University spent more than 28 years at the News-Press in Fort Myers ensuring that newspaper reporters’ stories were purged of embarrassing grammatical, spelling and factual misdeeds.
He also devoted seven years to schooling members of the Eagle News staff in the craft and ethics of journalism before the university established a journalism major. His tutelage resulted in several staffers choosing journalism as a career.
In 2016, Gibson joined the University Marketing & Communications (UMC) division of University Advancement as a staff writer, a job he took on gamely, as an enthusiastic supporter of the university and its initiatives. He painstakingly chronicled FGCU’s first two decades for the 20th anniversary website, chronicled the mascot traditions of schools nationwide when Azul got his own bench on campus and wrote a memorable piece on the careers of the “Daves of the diamonds” – Dave Dieros and Dave Tollett, the men who have led the FGCU softball and baseball teams since their inception.
Gibson has told a multitude of compelling stories about students, faculty, research and athletics, sharpened marketing materials with his ability to craft pithy headlines and taglines and helped make FGCU360 magazine better with his eagle editing eye.
As he prepares to trade in his computer and phone for his hot tub, gardens, pets and family, the UMC team and some of those he has influenced over the years wanted to offer thanks for sharing his wit and wisdom with us. Gibson will be missed by colleagues and those who may not know him but have benefited from his talent through the years. What follows are words from three of those who count themselves fortunate to have been mentored by him.
Emily Ford, WINK NEWS, Assignment Editor
Honestly, when I first met Keith, he terrified me. His no-sugarcoating, straight-to-the-point personality shocked me when I first entered the Eagle News newsroom.
One of the first things he ever told me was to never become a journalist (well, I didn’t listen). But then, I wrote my first article for Eagle News. Keith was so encouraging and provided me with the feedback I needed to build the confidence to keep going. His advice and critiques helped me become the editor-in-chief my senior year at FGCU, and helped me pursue journalism after graduation. I’m so fortunate to have had a mentor like Keith Gibson in my life.
Enjoy retirement, Keith! FGCU just won’t be the same without you.
Justin Kane, former editor-in-chief of Eagle News
When I met Keith in the fall of 2011, I was a freshman at FGCU and I was trying to get published in Eagle News. I wrote for my high school paper, but this was college and needless to say, I was nervous. I was a sportswriter and I think that’s how we instantly clicked.
Keith took me under his wing that freshman year (pun intended, go Eagles!) and wasn’t afraid to say my article was trash. That old man was sometimes harsh about my work, but he was always fair. He always wanted me – and Eagle News – to be better.
I was lucky enough to climb the ranks at Eagle News and my senior year become editor-in-chief with Keith by my side as our advisor. That same attitude he had for that freshman, he had for this senior three years later.
Keith was always someone that I respected tremendously and I had so much fun with at FGCU. We would talk baseball, hockey or how much he loved those Arby’s fish sandwiches.
He would poke fun at my silly columns but would always be the first person to defend anything we published at EN because he truly believed in us. To find someone like that at such a critical time in our lives did wonders for everyone at FGCU.
Keith Gibson, I love you and I thank you for making me a better writer and just an overall better person. I hope you have a wonderful retirement, and you get to enjoy some Pirates games and some more fish sandwiches.
Laurie D. Babcock, FGCU coordinator of event planning II, conference programs
In 2019, Keith and I were paired in a mentorship initiative out of the Ombudsman office. I listed three people in University Marketing I wanted to work with on my application, and Keith was either flattered or charitable enough to agree to be my mentor.
My first assignment was to interview Keith with the goal of writing an article for him to judge me as both an interviewer and features writer. Since he had called himself a cheerleader for FGCU in our first meeting, I made several comparisons of Keith to the FGCU Cheerleaders and the Dancing E’Gals. His initial response was, “You lost me when you essentially said that I’m not pretty in the first sentence!”
As was characteristic for Keith as a cheerleader of not just FGCU but those he mentored, he continued, “Actually, you did a fine job. A bit unconventional, but I like the ‘cheerleader’ angle.”
His edits to those first 500+ words included the removal of my beloved Oxford commas and he demonstrated how to create better flow when using disparate quotes. He also provided what he called “three general takeaways,” which concisely nailed everything wrong with my first draft.
I thought I would meet with Keith a few times and maybe I’d convince him to read my writing sample for graduate school, but his goals for us were loftier. Having Keith offer me the opportunity to write for publication in FGCU360.com was definitely beyond my expectations.
In my first official assignment for FGCU360.com, Keith asked for 800 words on Haley Levy, an art major with a digital media concentration and winner of a 2019 logo design contest for Naples Design District’s flagship building, The Collective. I gave him more than 1,600 words and an apology. Instead of making me slash the article, he suggested how to cut it in two – one on Levy’s winning design and one on the digital media program – and just like that I was a published writer. Twice.
My other articles for FGCU360.com were two ideas I pitched to Keith (the Liberation of Ravensbrück exhibit at the Bradshaw Library and a student-turned-author at the College of Education Literacy Festival), and an assignment on the student art major assistant to Naples’ artist Ran Adler. Keith always took the time to explain why an idea he rejected would not succeed, peppered with advice on navigating the difference between writing for marketing versus journalism. I thought of him as the Lou Grant to my Mary Tyler Moore, albeit much gentler and kinder.
As I wrote and he edited, Keith provided advice and encouragement along the way, as illustrated in this email when I was working on the Adler exhibit story:
“Thanks for getting the Ran Adler quotes; I think they make a good story better. As for the quote cited below that you couldn’t work in, that’s just the way it is sometimes. We often leave great material on the ‘cutting floor,’ or in this case, ‘in the notebook’ or ‘on the recording.’
When Keith offered me a 400-word assignment in the FGCU360 magazine on the Salseros Club, a salsa dancing student organization, I was thrilled by the opportunity to see my writing in the magazine, although completely daunted by the limiting word count. Keith was a great mentor and the best coach I’ve ever had, gifted at giving me a structure to work within and advice to get the best out of me while not clipping my creative wings.
COVID-19 ended our mentoring relationship earlier than anticipated, but in just a few short months, I’d met and promoted the accomplishments of several amazing FGCU students and departments, seen my writing improve, been published six times and with great sadness left behind my beloved Oxford commas.
I’ve never had a mentor before, but Keith is exactly what I needed to pursue my love of writing and commitment to “being” a writer. I’ll be applying to MFA in creative writing programs in the spring semester, with a flattering letter of reference from Keith. In our short time together, Keith equipped me to better succeed as a writer while holding a full-time job. I think now, were I to rewrite that first article about Keith as a cheerleader, I’d use the term champion instead.