Gillum, Gary - Oral History Interview
Around the time he attended SAIS, Gary was looking for a career and mostly to do work in the South America (specifically Colombia), in the field of economics. Prior to SAIS, he was at MIT at a time when the Peace Corps first came to be. As he did not know, at the time, exactly what he wanted to do, he joined the Peace Corps. Gary reports that he almost didn’t get into SAIS, but in the end, his grades were good enough. He remembers interviewing with one of the professors, though he can’t recall his name. He talked with him for a while and after the conversation, he said, “We’ll take you.” Gary recalls everyone being very nice and bright at SAIS. He recalls professors with fondness and made friends in his area of Latin America while he was there. He also recalls having to take the Orals (Spanish was his language). At the time, there were only a few Economics courses offered at SAIS. He recalls that the SAIS building was on Massachusetts Avenue (and is still there) and that the Brookings Institute was across the street (also still there). Gary says that his career after SAIS took an evolving path. He worked on his Ph.D. in Economics at the University of Chicago for five years, which he describes as one of the best programs in the country at the time. After five years, he began looking for a job. The AEA had a program and he worked with them to get a job in Philadelphia with the Federal Reserve. There, he struggled at first with his team and says that only five or six of them were really interested in doing good work. On that team, he also worked closely with Anita Summers (Larry Summers’ mother), with whom he and his wife are still closely acquainted. At the time, she was working on several projects related to the Philadelphia School System. Later, there was a blow up in his department, though he stayed there because he wanted to have a job. After Philadelphia, he and his wife moved to Washington, D.C. where he continued work as an Economist at the Federal Reserve. There, he was given a big project to work….related to the ‘Discount Window’ (tied to the 12 Federal banks that existed then). This effort took several years and he set up a model within which to work that was very different than what anyone else had done at the time. He set up various teams in different locations around the country. Later in his career, he got involved in working on the Y2K project. On January 1, 2000, Gary had to be at work at 7:00 a.m. He knew about all the big banks and he sat around for a while until the banks opened at 9:00 or 10:00 a.m. Fortunately, nothing major happened. The banks were fine and life proceeded, business as usual. It was an exciting time for him. Gary also recalls sometimes sitting behind Greenspan during their meetings (and he was involved in taping those meetings). One time, Greenspan complained of not being able to hear in the meeting (as he sat on the other side of a long table) and Gary was involved in making better equipment and improving the design of the room. To current students, Gary advises that they should be open. Sometimes you’re given a problem in life and it’s hard to do…and sometimes you just can’t do it…but you usually get through it. Gary also recalls being in New York on September 11, 2001. He took the subway down to the Federal Reserve bank. When he came out of the subway, paper was flying all around. He decided something was wrong and ran into the building (he was the last one allowed in). Someone told him that a plane had gone into the building. He then heard a ‘crunch’ (the second plane had hit). So, he immediately called his boss. Greenspan was in Europe at the time. So, Gary stayed there all day, watching TV in the Bank building (with 50 other people). He recalls that the dust came into the Bank. They stayed there until 6:00 p.m. and then had to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge to the nearest subway. At the end of the day, he ended up in Brooklyn. The next day, he got a train going back to the Board – which took the whole day. He walked right in and talked with others in the building. He describes that it was quite a trip to get back to the Federal Reserve Board building. He worked that day until about 3:00 or 4:00 p.m. and was then asked to leave to go to a place where he would be safe. He went to this new place and gave a speech. He ended up staying with people that he didn’t know.
SAIS, MIT, Colombia, Peace Corps, Economics, University of Chicago, Federal Reserve Board, September 11, 2011 Terrorist Attacks, Discount window, Y2K