John Gay would've loved to meet a student like Chloe Simpson.
John Gay, EdD, loved students with drive. He could recognize those who had potential
and ambition, and then poured encouragement into them to help them believe that
they could achieve and do more. He was the kind of professor, dean, scholar and
man whom a student would stop in an airport years later to thank him for the nudge
he gave them to be better.
He would have loved Chloe Simpson.
He would have admired her drive and determination to make a difference. He would
have recognized her intelligence and ambition. She is the kind of student that
would later stop him at an airport to thank him for the encouragement.
Gay did not get the chance to meet Simpson. Shortly after committing to full-time
retirement, he was diagnosed with cancer. He lost his battle with the disease in
January of 2020.
Despite the two never having met, Simpson carried a piece of Gay and his legacy of
scholarship and determination with her during West Virginia University’s commencement
ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022.
A tale of two mantras
Gay’s impact at WVU is significant. After earning his doctoral degree in health education
from WVU in 1974, he had a long and distinguished career in academia that was underscored
with awards and took him to numerable parts of the world. His recognition of the
value of research and collaboration led him, along with his wife Kacey, to help fund
research initiatives for students. Their passion for scholarship is commemorated
John and Kacey Gay Research Wall on WVU’s campus.
His mantra was simple and effective: “Pursue excellence in everything you do.”
Simpson, meanwhile, is just getting started.
Originally from Sacramento, she attended Sacramento State University and received
her degree in kinesiology. While there, she worked at an autism center that introduced
her to the field of adapted physical activity and physical education Concurrently,
her father experienced a stroke that impacted his motor abilities. She was heavily
involved in her father’s physical therapy and rebuffed the limits that the kinesiology
professionals put on his recovery. She became focused on helping him live the life
he wanted to have again.
Those events, along with her own experience as a child missing out on general education
classroom time due to being pulled out for special education programming, helped
fuel her desire to make an impact. She earned her master’s degree in kinesiology,
with an emphasis in adapted physical education, at Oregon State. There, she taught
graduate classes and helped supervise a program that trained physical education
students how to teach those with disabilities.
Her final step in her education led her to WVU to complete her doctoral degree. In
addition to receiving grant funding to pursue her doctorate, Simpson helped secure
a pair of grants for WVU, one that included securing wheelchairs used for basic
instruction programs for wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis.
She will soon head back west with her partner, Lucy, and their dogs Raymond and Rusty,
as she begins her career as an assistant professor of adapted physical education
at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.
Her mantra is simple and effective and has echoes of Gay’s: “Be diligent in your
A 'full circle moment'
CAHS Dean Autumn Cyprès wanted to connect with Mrs. Gay on her initial return to
Morgantown since her husband’s passing. It was her first opportunity to see the
Research Wall in their honor and attend a Mountaineer football game.
As part of her visit, Cyprès invited Mrs. Gay to dinner and asked Simpson to join
them. Simpson had been a member of the selection committee for Cyprès and impressed
Cyprès with her enthusiasm and sense of purpose.
It did not take long for Simpson, on the verge of completing her own doctoral degree
at WVU in coaching and teaching studies, to impress Mrs. Gay.
“I was interested in hearing about the project that she was working on and how she
was doing her doctorate. I thought of other doctoral students that my husband had
when he was in higher education,” Mrs. Gay recalled. “I just saw this desire in
her to do well and her desire to make a difference. And I related that to something
my husband always said, which was ‘pursue excellence in anything you do.’”
“I watched a lot of different students and faculty over the years,” she said. “I
saw some who were closed in the world of academics and never get out of it, but
I saw others who were going to go out in the real world. I saw that Chloe was going
to be one of the ones that went out and make a difference.”
Shortly after the dinner, Mrs. Gay remembered that her husband had talked to previous
deans about donating his regalia. She knew that buying regalia is another expense
for a newly minted doctoral candidate. And, after meeting Simpson and recognizing
that Gay would have appreciated her boldness and relentlessness, Mrs. Gay offered
to pass along the regalia to Simpson.
She eagerly accepted.
“I was a little bit in shock and incredibly honored,” she said. “I felt honored because
I know how much Kacey values her husband’s work and how much they value helping
doctoral students. For me to have the ability to help carry forward his academic
legacy and track record of giving really meant a lot to me.”
At that point, Simpson had not yet defended her dissertation – the final hurdle to
earning her degree. On Nov. 17, though, she withstood more than as hour of presenting
and defending her dissertation, titled “Examining Physical Educators' Socialization
and Self-Efficacy Toward Behavior Management of Students with Disabilities.” After
a grueling, 15-minute waiting period, she was notified that she had, indeed, successfully
defended her dissertation.
Following the moments of relief and excitement, Cyprès took the opportunity to congratulate
Simpson and present her with Gay’s regalia.
Cyprès had collected the regalia and purchased a garment bag with Simpson’s initials
embroidered on it, enveloping the old with the new. She took a few moments to explain
doctoral regalia and its significance as the uniform of an academic.
“Given that regalia is considered some of the most sacred possessions that an academic
owns, and given Dr. Gay's rich, exemplary legacy as a leader in his profession
and to the communities he served, I find Kacey’s gesture to pass along these items
particularly touching,” Cyprès noted.
She explained that the
tam, or headwear, and the hood that are awarded to doctoral candidates were
historically used to hold writing implements and money. In homage to that tradition,
Cyprès included two quarters with Gay’s regalia: one marking the year in which
she earned her doctoral degree and the other being a West Virginia state quarter.
With the room full of family, friends, professors and student colleagues, Simpson
donned the regalia.
Of course, it fit perfectly.
“It was all a blur,” Simpson admitted. “I was overwhelmed with gratitude for everything
that brought me to that spot. It was surreal. The honor on top of it all was to
receive the robe.
“After the rush of it all, I had a moment to reflect and think about the moments
that John had in that robe,” she said. “I thought about the pride that he had for
the moments he worked so hard for and all the students he graduated. I thought
about how I will have those exact same moments in that same robe. I think that’s
Upon seeing photos of Simpson in the regalia, Mrs. Gay became emotional.
“I cried happy tears,” she admitted, with a tear in her eye and a smile on her face.
“Seeing the regalia on Chloe brought back a lot of memories. I was happy to reflect.”
“All of the responsibilities and honor that comes with the academic achievement of
receiving your doctoral degree stays within the fabric of those robes,” Cyprès
added. “I think that there is charm in knowing that for the rest of Chloe’s career,
she has someone covering her who has her back, at least metaphorically, as she
continues through the cycle of continuing thought to better humanity.”
For Simpson, it is an honor to be bound to someone she never had the opportunity
“I adopted my mantra, ‘Be diligent in your work,’ because I feel like if I’m going
to sign up for something, I need to do my best in it and committed to it with integrity,”
she said. “I think John was the same way. So, from that standpoint, I think it’s
fitting I get to wear that robe moving forward.”
“It’s nice to have a full circle moment,” Mrs. Gay said. “I’m just glad that she’ll
be able to use the regalia and continue his legacy. And the legacy isn’t about
their lines of study, which are close, but it’s about relentlessness.”
Simpson will exemplify that legacy in her everyday work as a scholar and practitioner.
Gay’s legacy will be celebrated and remembered each time those robes are donned
Starting with, and especially, her first commencement ceremony officially as Dr.