Meet the Locals: Gary Jobson
It’s 9:00am on a rainy Wednesday morning in May, the sort of day that would find most men in their mid-sixties who’ve achieved greatness in several facets of their lives relaxing with a cup of coffee and the newspaper. Not Gary Jobson. He has just finished reviewing the introduction to his latest documentary film in-the-making, on his hometown of Barnegat Bay, New Jersey. Soon, he’ll be heading to St. Mary’s College to attend a meeting of the board of trustees. Then he’ll prepare for a business trip to Madrid.
But for 60 riveting minutes, Jobson—decorated sailor, past president of U.S. Sailing, television sailing commentator who has covered America’s Cup nine times, Emmy winner, lecturer, sailing coach, author, father of three, and cancer survivor—graciously opens up to VisitAnnapolis about his incredibly full life.
The globe-trotting sailing legend who has called Annapolis home since the 1970’s talked about his passion for the sport, the illustrious people and causes to whom sailing has connected him, why he’s chosen to make Annapolis his home of several decades, what he’s really proud of, and more.
When and where were you first introduced to sailing?
I grew up in Barnegat Bay, New Jersey and started sailing at age 6. I was a child of the post-World War II generation. That generation came home from the war, the economy was bright, they wanted to embrace leisure time and focus on their kids. Lucky me; I was one of those kids. I played every sport you could. The one I was sort of good at was sailing.
When did you know that sailing would become such a huge part of your life?
When I was around 12, it clicked. I knew then that sailing would be my life’s mission. I didn’t know where I was going or how I would do it. But I ended up pioneering a lot in the sport of sailing that had never been done. I don’t know if I was smart, lucky, stupid or courageous; I just kept setting goals that were sailing-oriented. The first goal was to win races. Then it was to get to better races, bigger boats.
You’ve been an ambassador of the sport of sailing as well as a world-class competitor. When did sailing become more to you than a competitive sport?
Again, the defining moment for me was when I was 12. A family came down to the yacht club in Barnegat Bay. I had a brand new boat, I was telling them how the boat works. Later, the family came back and told me they had joined the yacht club. I was so proud that I had encouraged them to get involved in sailing. The next defining moment for me came in 1967, when I was 17. That was the summer when I became a sailing instructor. I began creating drills in sailing that had never been done before.
Talk about being a sailing coach, and where it led you.
I became a sailing coach at the Merchant Marine Academy, then at the Naval Academy. Coaching really helped me define the sport of sailing. I came up with all kinds of ideas. I got myself on the Olympic Committee. I told the other committee members that if we wanted to win medals in the Olympics, we needed to recruit, train, and find good coaches. They gave me a shot. I got training programs going. I came up with idea of umpiring. I wrote the first sailing instructors manual in this country.
Your vision and commitment to sailing has enhanced the sport immeasurably. How has your sailing prowess opened doors for you?
Along the way, I realized that sailing for me was more of a vehicle to get to know people who are really high-end, meaning they’ve achieved great things. Being around these people, who have done great things, I found it inspiring, intellectually stimulating. I got to meet a lot of good people: Ted Turner, Walter Cronkite, Ted Koppel, President Bill Clinton, Senator Ted Kennedy, Secretary of State John Kerry, Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan, the King of Spain, the King of Norway, and others.
Did any of these folks have a particularly profound influence on you?
In 1976, after I had been named to the U.S. Committee, I walked into a conference and Ted Turner says: Hey you, I need a tactician. Can you sail with me in the America’s Cup next summer? (Jobson served as the tactician on Ted Turner’s yacht, Courageous, which won the America’s Cup in 1977.) Ironically, two days later, after that conference, I was flying back to Annapolis and Ted Turner was flying back to sail in a race. Ted was 37 at the time. He told me I had to buy his stock. (Ted Turner went on to build Turner Broadcasting Company, a multi-billion dollar empire.) He told me: you’re going to help me win races, and I’m going to help you with your business. Ted is a dear friend of mine, a great organizer. We won everything, the two of us. I had strengths he didn’t have, and vice versa. And he helped me figure out how to do business. Also, Walter Cronkite, when I got my job at ESPN, gave me some great advice. He said: I don’t have much advice, but here are my thoughts: Make every word count. Don’t say anything the viewer can see. Do your homework; you never know when an interesting fact or tidbit will come along. And don’t say anything just to say it. I also got hooked up with Herbert von Karajan, an Austrian conductor who led the Vienna Philharmonic and was considered the most outstanding conductor of all time. He had a passion for sailing. I spent five summers as his racing tactician. I have a deep appreciation for classical music, and here I was helping him win sailing races.
For someone who is entrenched in the sailing community and has mingled with celebrated people from all over the world, does Annapolis feel like the right place to live?
Annapolis is a wonderful community. I like the historic nature, there’s all kinds of sailing that goes on here virtually 12 months of the year. No matter where I go in the world, when I say I’m from Annapolis, sailing people know our town. Annapolis is such a dynamic community. With the Naval Academy, its vibrant maritime community, the government, its tourism component—what a cool place. Everything’s walkable. And, geographically, it’s in a unique position. The bridge makes it easier to come here, as does the airport. It’s close to Washington, D.C., which is rapidly becoming the center of America. But here’s what’s special: You don’t have to be born here to be part of the fabric. I didn’t grow up here, but I’m here and very much a part of the town. I think Annapolis is very welcoming to people who aren’t from here. You can be as quiet or as bold as you want to be in this town. Another cool thing about our town that hasn’t been trumpeted is that there are some very innovative, productive people here. And they’re not loud about it. The area just exudes people who think a lot and do cool things.
You’re a big fan of Annapolis. How could it be better?
I’m a huge proponent of making City Dock a better place. That waterfront is so precious that we can do better. A lot of old towns are held back by people who don’t want any change. We can be thoughtful about preserving our historic traditions while making improvements.
I understand the National Sailing Hall of Fame and Museum is coming to Annapolis. How was Annapolis chosen for the site?
I came up with the idea of having the Whitbread Round the World Race here. The race came here in ‘98. At the City Dock we had a skipper’s forum; I was the moderator. There were a couple thousand people in attendance. At that moment, I thought: We need a hall of fame for our sport. That was May of ‘98. We announced it in ‘05. We’ve had some starts and stops. But we got a long-term lease. We’ve done three inductions. Now we have to build something.
What is your vision for the National Sailing Hall of Fame and Museum?
My vision is for a building that’s two stories tall. The first floor would have a really nifty exhibit area, with kiosks celebrating great maritime people. Upstairs, there would be a fabulous conference area and library. I envision a modest building at City Dock. By honoring great people in the sport, you inspire others to do more. It’ll be just one more cool thing to have in Annapolis.
The Superbowl is practically a national holiday. The World Series ranks pretty high in the sports world. Sailing seems to draw a very devoted, yet much smaller, following. Has this changed over the years, and how?
Believe it or not, sailing from the late 1800s to the 1930s was a very closely followed sport. Not a lot of participants, but a lot of people were intrigued by it. Later, sailing became a participant sport, but not a visible sport. Yacht clubs tend to be private. In the 50’s and 60’s, no one showed off the sport. I was part of the wave of making it visible, with coverage of America’s Cup.
What about the way you covered the America’s Cup changed sailing’s viewership?
We at ESPN pioneered the use of on-board cameras. Sailors didn’t want it. I went to Dennis Conner (four-time winner of America’s Cup) and his crew; the crew voted 10-0 against it. I said: Try it for one day. A day later, the guys on the crew are hearing from people at home. They liked it. Onboard cameras became groundbreaking.
What’s something that few people know about you?
I lecture anywhere from 100 to 120 times a year. You have to really prepare something when you’re live; there’s no faking it. I get such energy from audiences. But back in 1967, I was so nervous to speak publicly that I wet my pants in front of a crowd. I overcame my fear by a couple things: Meticulous preparation. I write outlines for every speech. I never wing it. I have an enthusiastic style. I speak in short, understandable sentences. I never use bad words, nor do I use ‘um’. My audience becomes somewhat of a toy that I play with. I know what people like and don’t like, because I’ve been in front of a crowd so many times.
The awards and honors you’ve received over the years are too numerous to mention in one article. Is there one that you are most proud of?
(As this question is posed, Jobson walks around his office, pausing at various framed sailing-related awards hanging on the walls; he’s been inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame and the America’s Cup Hall of Fame, to name a few. He pauses in front of certificate announcing the Gary Jobson Endowment, dedicated to funding innovative treatment therapies for non-Hodkins lymphoma. In 2012, the University of Maryland Medical School appointed Aaron P. Rapoport, MD the inaugural Gary Jobson Professor in Medical Oncology. Rapoport served as Jobson’s oncologist and champion throughout his illness. The National Chairman of the Leukemia Cup Regatta since 1994, Jobson has spearheaded over $48 million in funds for the cause. Approximately a decade after he became involved in fundraising for Leukemia, Jobson developed Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. In 2003, he underwent a blood stem cell transplant at the University of Maryland and remains cancer-free). I resolved when I was sick that if I was lucky enough to recover, public service would be my major priority. Hence, my work with the Leukemia Cup Regatta, the hospital (he is vice chair of the Board of Trustees for the Anne Arundel Medical Center), St. Mary’s College, the Sailing Hall of Fame. These are all unpaid jobs.
You give back to the community in so many ways. Which of your appointments excites you most?
I’m on the board of the International Sailing Federation, the governing body of the sport of sailing that includes 130 countries. It’s run by an executive committee of eight. I’m only the sixth American to be on the committee since 1907. Eight of us come from Greece, Turkey, Italy, England, the U.S., Uruguay, New Zealand, and China. What a cool thing to get together a couple times a year and sit around the table with all these people; it’s very intellectually stimulating. To be one of the eight…I think back to being a kid on the Jersey Shore, where it all started.
You have brought so much to the sailing world. What of your sailing legacy do you hope to leave behind?
It’s pretty cool to have three daughters, all with master’s degrees. I have the quiet satisfaction of having launched them, although my wife gets more credit than me. I also have two grandsons. I can’t wait for them to sail with Grandpop—inspiring a 6-year-old—it’s going to be one of the great things in my life.