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Movers and Shakers and History Makers

Story by
Nancy Joseph
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Gary (left) and Carver Gayton. Media credit: Jacob Lambert

To list all of Gary and Carver Gayton’s accomplishments would require miles of ink. The siblings—both A&S alumni and recipients of the College’s Timeless Award—have helped shape our region for more than 50 years.

Gary (BA, political science, 1955), the first African American captain of a UW varsity team, went on to become a respected attorney, investment banker, and political advisor. Carver (BA, history, 1960; MA, public affairs, 1972; PhD, political science, 1976), a Husky Hall of Famer in football and the University’s first African American full-time coach, has been an FBI agent, an education and affirmative action advocate, a museum director, and an author.

The brothers come from a long line of high achievers. Their maternal great grandfather, Lewis Clarke, began his life as a slave in Kentucky but became a popular speaker in the abolitionist movement after escaping to freedom in 1841. Their paternal grandfather, John Thomas Gayton, was among the first black settlers in Seattle, arriving in 1888 as the valet for a white physician.

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Renowned coach Clarence S. "Hec" Edmundson talks with the track team, including Gary Gayton (front row, center) in this 1954 photo. Gayton served as captain of the team in 1955—the first African American captain of any UW varsity team.

Gary and Carver grew up with six siblings in Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood, which was all white at the time. Although the family was offered bribes to leave, and windows in their home were smashed, they stayed put and were soon active in the community. In their elementary school, Gary headed the School Boy patrol (the equivalent of student body president); Carver followed suit but shook things up by renaming it the Schoolchildren’s Patrol and inviting girls to participate.

At Garfield High School, Gary was the first African American student body president, an “All-City Miler” on the school’s championship track team, and an honors student who received an academic scholarship to the UW from Garfield’s alumni association. Carver, class president during his senior year, excelled in football as an All-State fullback. Both continued in athletics at the University of Washington. Gary was captain of the UW track team in 1955; Carver helped the Husky football team earn a Rose Bowl victory in 1960. 

Most of the Gayton siblings also attended the UW and were active in sports. “It seemed to me that the majority of blacks on campus were athletes,” explains Carver, who recalls that “during all of my undergraduate years on campus, I was the only black in each of my classes.”

Immersed in Law and Politics

The trademark Gayton “can do” attitude continued after graduation. Gary, who knew from an early age that he wanted to be a lawyer, earned a law degree at Gonzaga University. He got the law bug from his grandfather, who worked as court bailiff for many years and later became librarian for the Ninth District Court of Appeals.

After Gonzaga, Gary was picked for the plum job of Assistant U.S. Attorney for the western district of Washington state—the first African American appointed to the position. “I graduated law school just as the Kennedy administration was trying to get minorities involved,” he recalls. “Brock Adams was U.S. Attorney and was state chair of Kennedy’s campaign. He remembered me as an athlete at the UW and called to offer me the job.”

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Gary Gayton.

After three years as Assistant U.S. Attorney, arguing landmark cases on everything from Indian fishing rights to point fixing in college basketball, Gary and three partners formed a law firm whose clients included Black Panthers, anti-Vietnam war activists, and a female UW tennis player interested in competing on the men’s team just before Title IX led to the creation of a women’s team.

Gary left his law firm when long-time mentor Brock Adams, then U.S. Secretary of Transportation in the Carter administration, appointed him as a special assistant and White House liaison to the Department of Transportation. Gary later served as the administrator of what is now known as the Federal Transit Administration. Other political roles followed, including Washington state finance chair for the Clinton-Gore Presidential Campaign, member of President-Elect Bill Clinton’s transition team, and member of Gary Locke’s transition teams as King County Executive and Governor of Washington. For his many accomplishments, he was honored with the UW Political Science Department’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2005.

Gary also has served on more than 60 nonprofit boards, including a term as president of PONCHO. “It’s gotten to the point where people ask me to be on their board and I chuckle, knowing that they’re unaware that I chaired that board 40 years ago,” he says.

Drawn to "Interesting Challenges"

While Gary always knew he wanted to practice law, Carver’s professional life has been guided by serendipity. Drawn to education, Carver taught English and history at Garfield High School after earning his bachelor’s degree, until a random conversation with Gary at a family picnic led him in a new direction. 

“Gary was in the U.S. Attorney’s Office at the time and came across a lot of FBI agents,” Carver recalls. “He asked me if I’d considered that. I just laughed. On a dare—I’d never heard of a black FBI agent—I took the test.” Carver passed the test, becoming one of just a dozen or so African American FBI agents in the country and the first in Washington state.

Carver served in the FBI for four years, followed by a shorter stint with Lockheed Missiles and Space Company as part of a select team overseeing security programs for highly classified government projects. But when the UW came calling, offering Carver the opportunity to serve as assistant coach for the Husky football team, he couldn’t refuse. He became the first black full-time coach of any varsity sport at the UW.

It was a rocky tenure as assistant coach. Head Coach Jim Owens famously suspended four black team members for a perceived lack of loyalty, and Carver eventually resigned his coaching post. But he continued at the UW as director of
Affirmative Programs, a newly created position aimed at increasing the number of minority faculty and staff at the University. 

“It was both exciting and frustrating,” recalls Carver of the University’s first attempts at affirmative action. “There
was a lot of pushback, mostly by established faculty. But there were some successes and I felt good about what we were able to accomplish.”

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Carver Gayton.

While working at the UW, Carver completed his master’s and PhD degrees. Still drawn to teaching, he joined the Florida State University faculty as an assistant professor, until a friend at Boeing recruited him away for an executive position that combined his interests in education and public-private partnerships. Carver spent 18 years at Boeing, taking on numerous roles involving education, training, and corporate giving. He later served as Commissioner of the Washington State Department of Employment Security under Gary Locke, taught in the UW’s Evans School of Public Affairs as a lecturer, and led the Northwest African American Museum as its founding director.

“Gary knew from four years old what he wanted to do,” says Carver. “For me, as things come about and they look like interesting challenges, I think, ‘Why not?’ I have no regrets in regard to any of those jobs. Whatever I’m doing at a given moment, that’s what I enjoy.”

Through it all, Carver has remained a dedicated UW volunteer. He served as president of the UW Alumni Association, member of the Visiting Committees for the Evans School and College of Education, chair of the UW President’s Club, and member of the Arts and Sciences Development Advisory Board and the Tyee Board. He received the UW Alumni Association’s prestigious Distinguished Service Award in 1997 in recognition of his years of service.

Still Working, Still Learning

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The new edition of a book by Carver and Gary Gayton's great grandfather includes an introduction by Carver.

Both Gary and Carver continue to challenge themselves. Gary remains a practicing attorney and is a senior vice president at Siebert Brandford Shank & Co., the largest female- and minority-owned investment firm in the nation. “It’s been wonderful for me,” he says. “I’m rejuvenated, working with young people in a very diversified work force. I manage relationships between clients and the firm.” 

Carver, meanwhile, has immersed himself in family history. He recently wrote a moving introduction to Narrative of the Sufferings of Lewis Clarke During a Captivity of More Than Twenty-Five Years, his great grandfather Lewis Clarke’s autobiographical account of his years as a slave, first published in 1845. Clarke’s life story became the basis for a lead character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. A new edition with Carver’s introduction was published in 2012 by University of Washington Press.

It’s not lost on Carver that his latest effort combines history and English, his undergraduate major and minor at the UW. 

“Probably the courses that made the biggest impact on me were my English literature courses,” he says. “They made me think about myself and my life, and offered perspectives on what’s important. Being in the UW Parrington library, reading those books…that experience has had a major influence on my outlook on life.”