The Art of Giving

January 8, 2013

In the annals of Memphis and West Tennessee history the names of Cecil M. and Boyce Alexander Gooch should never be forgotten.  As a couple they moved quietly through the business, artistic, educational and social circles of the 20th Century Memphis leaving a legacy that lives to this day.

Cecil Gooch was born around 1890 on a farm near Crab Orchard, Kentucky and began in the lumber business by cutting logs in the mountains for a dollar a day. In 1919 he moved to Memphis. In a short time he built a fortune in the hardwood business.

Boyce Alexander, born in 1893 near Cuba in Northern Shelby County, attended Vassar on a scholarship, and upon graduation in 1915, returned home to teach school.  She taught for a year at a rural school at Cuba, and for three years at Central High School.  In 1919 she married Cecil Gooch.

Early in their married lives they were known for their world travels, and their activity in the local arts and social scenes.  They established a beautiful home behind the wall and gardens at 123 East Parkway North.  On the issue of money, Mrs. Gooch once said, “I told my husband when we were first married I wanted him to make enough money for me to do anything I wanted, so I could be called eccentric.”

One year Mr. Gooch ask his wife what she wanted for Christmas.  Her answer was “to give a scholarship to Vassar.”  It didn’t stop there.  By 1943 she sold him on a larger vision and together they formed the C.M. Gooch Foundation. Over the next 35 years they gave away millions of dollars in the form of scholarships and financial aid to over 12,000 young Mid-South students.  Cecil and Boyce never had children of their own and Mrs. Gooch often referred to the scholarship recipients as her ‘children’.

The Gooches are also remembered for the buildings on West Tennessee college campuses which bear their name.  At the University of Tennessee-Martin stands the Cecil M. & Boyce Gooch Hall.  Locally, standing on the campus of Rhodes College, is Gooch Hall.  Erected in 1962 and dedicated in 1982 to the Gooches, the building adjoins Palmer Hall and the Richard Halliburton Memorial Tower. It houses the Office of the President, and the Offices of Student Affairs and the Academic Deans.

Mr. Gooch died in 1969.  Mrs. Gooch lived in the family home until her death in December of 1979.  They are buried in the Miller Section of Elmwood.  Their simple stones do nothing to draw attention to their names and the wide spread philanthropy and goodwill to which they dedicated their remarkable lives. I like to think that this is exactly how they wanted it to be.  They had mastered the fine “Art of Giving”.

-Dale Schaefer, Historian

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