Executive Profile: Paul Gorman of South Shore YMCA

Originally published June 27, 2014 in the Boston Business Journal.

As a runner, Paul Gorman hit the ground hard and fast. As president and CEO of the South Shore YMCA, he’s in it for the long haul.

This January, a new $33 million YMCA facility opened in Quincy, replacing a building that was nearly 60 years old that sprung a leak in its water main four months before the new center opened, effectively putting it out of service.

Gorman helped raise $11 million for the capital campaign that financed the 120,000-square-foot project. He did the same in the North Shore at the Marblehead/Swampscott YMCA — now called the Lynch/van Otterloo YMCA after Fidelity’s Peter Lynch and GMO’s Eyk van Otterloo, two of the facility’s largest donors. As executive director of the North Shore facility, Gorman spearheaded the nearly $15 million capital campaign that led to the design of a $20 million, 90,000-square-foot facility.

It was just a larger version of a rebuild in the Wakefield/Reading area, where he helped redevelop a new $4.5 million facility, now called the Burbank YMCA after Nelson Burbank, the facility’s primary donor. For each project, Gorman said he practiced patience, taking the time to listen to the needs of the community, and gather input from staff, city officials and donors.

Gorman spent six months of discussions with Burbank before bringing the concept to the community.

“It’s like an old-fashioned barn raising, where everyone comes together to help,” Gorman said. “If only one or two people believe in the vision, you aren’t going to get very far.”

Although he didn’t know it at the time, Gorman’s relationship with Burbank would prove fruitful in the South Shore, where he met Burbank’s good friend, Herb Emilson. Emilson turned out to be a major supporter of the South Shore YMCA’s Mill Pond branch in Hanover, now called the Emilson Arts Pavilion.

“It’s all about developing a relationship with people who have the capacity to make that kind of change,” Gorman said. “In Reading, it was about getting to know Nelson and his thoughts on what he felt was needed in the community and for Nelson to get to know me. It happens over time.”

Gorman was an outsider when he came to the South Shore, but he quickly made inroads with the local business community, said South Shore Chamber of Commerce CEO Peter Forman. Gorman joined the chamber’s board of directors two years ago, Forman said.

“(Gorman) is very good at thinking about how issues are connected and how opportunities are connected and realizing the importance of the Y to the community,” Forman said. “He’s very good at building relationships, but he’s pretty quiet at first impressions. He doesn’t blow his own horn very much, but he has a lot to talk about.”

It was that ability to make inroads with executives that launched Gorman’s 18-year career with the YMCA. The Swampscott native fell into a job with the organization after trying to start a nonprofit of his own. Modeled after the Variety Village organization in Toronto, Canada, Gorman was looking for a way to make physical activity more accessible to people with disabilities.

It was an issue that hit close to home with Gorman, who had worked in special education classrooms before starting a career as a world-class runner on the U.S. Track and Field team. By the time his running career was coming to an end, Gorman’s second child was born with severe disabilities, and he said he wanted to ensure his daughter could participate fully in recreational opportunities open to other children.

Even though that nonprofit never lived on its own, Gorman said he’s never given up on the idea.

“For me, I’m trying to invest more than you would find in a lot of other organizations,” Gorman said, adding the South Shore YMCA purchased $100,000 in equipment designed for people with or without disabilities. “It’s been my career to try and ensure that when YMCAs are developed, they’re physically accessible.”


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