Retired accountant Stanley Gutridge ’45 may be a numbers man, but he also has a way with words.
“I’m the baby of my family,” says the 99-year-old with a laugh, “and the lone survivor.”
Gutridge has seen a lot of life while helping others make the most of theirs, efforts that have not gone unnoticed.
In January, Worcester honored him with the MLK Eleanor Hawley Community Service Award for his decades of public service on boards and commissions that strive to increase awareness of the benefits of diversity. Among his leadership roles were incorporator of the Greater Worcester Community Foundation, solicitor for the Community Chest, and treasurer for the Worcester branch of the NAACP and the African Heritage Institute. In 2000 he received an award for community service from the Higgins School of Humanities at Clark University.
Gutridge enrolled at Clark in 1942 at his family’s urging after graduating from the New England School of Accounting (he was given a year’s credit for his accounting degree).
“These were tough times, and I needed to go to school to earn a better life,” he says.
His arrival on campus coincided with that of the first women undergraduates, a historic occasion in the institution’s history.
“Clark looked into the future. They knew men were off to war and women were pushing ahead, stepping into jobs and working for social and economic equality,” he says. “And Clark said, ‘You can come here.’ It was really a learning experience for all of us, a very good one. Clark was preparing us for the reality that once we headed out into the world we needed to go forward together.”
At Clark, Gutridge, the only African-American student, was elected president of the men’s student body his senior year and allied with women’s student body president Margaret “Peg” Russell ’46 to create a more welcoming campus for all. They quickly turned their attention to the library, which had devolved into a noisy hangout rather than a place for scholarly pursuit.
“People would be smoking, eating, joking loudly. It was everything but a place for quiet study. Peg and I decided it was time to clean the place up,” Stanley remembers. The two organized a council that developed rules for comportment which, if violated, could result in academic penalties. It was tough medicine, but thanks to the new regulations the library atmosphere was substantially improved.
With a degree in business management in hand, Gutridge found the professional arena far less welcoming. Before entering Clark, he already had been rejected for military service at a Worcester recruiting station, where he was advised to join a black regiment in the South. A prominent business college also had refused him entree because the admissions officer “said he’d never heard of a black accountant.”
He struggled to launch his professional career in Worcester. At one point Gutridge was offered a job at a local accounting firm sight unseen, then had the offer revoked the next day when his would-be employer discovered he was black.
He rose above the injustices, eventually landing a position as assistant to the president of a local millinery company, handling insurance, union negotiations, relocations and investments. “This is what I was trained for,” he says. Gutridge later worked for 22 years as payroll supervisor at State Mutual Life Insurance Co., retiring in 1982.
A prolific writer, Stanley Gutridge has authored several books and many poems that examine the pathways of his long life. Though he and his late wife Natalie never had children, he did teach Sunday school for 42 years. “In a way,” he declares with a broad smile, “I have children everywhere.”
Top: Janette Greenwood (l.), professor of history, and Esther Jones, professor of English and director of Africana Studies, welcomed Stanley Gutridge to campus Oct. 6 for a Community Fireside Chat.
This story was published in the spring 2016 edition of CLARK magazine.