Gus Gusler’s time as student body president in 1971-72 did not come without its unrest. First there were numbers of students protesting the Vietnam War in the streets and at the Capitol building. And then there were his fiery exchanges with Chancellor John T. Caldwell.
Gusler remembered how in his first meeting with the chancellor, Caldwell had intended to intimidate him with his stature by having the president-elect sit next to him. But Gusler had been tipped off and chose to sit at the other end of the table, a symbolic move foreshadowing how the two would face off in the ensuing year.
But Gusler, who is a Raleigh attorney and owner of Hillsborough Street’s Players’ Retreat, pointed out in an interview for the Student Leadership Initiative, NCSU Libraries’ showcase of former student leaders at NC State and their recorded reflections of their time at the university, that there was always behind-the-scenes mentoring going on.
“Chancellor Caldwell, had the biggest impact on me of anybody,” Gusler said. “I worshiped the ground the man walked on. He was an amazing person, probably one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.
“…We were constantly at each others’ throats publicly in meetings and stuff, completely disagreeing on an awful lot of stuff, and it was very high energy disagreement, and then that night I’d go have dinner with him at his house.”
In Gusler’s three interviews featured in the Student Leadership Initiative, he also talked about how he and Caldwell would frequently be at odds over the pace of advancements in the African-American community and education.
“He just couldn’t understand why I would get so angry about that, that we were moving in the right direction, but a little too slow for me,” Gusler said. Gusler discussed how he was sensitive to racial and socioeconomic issues, having grown up on the poor side of the tracks in a segregated Burlington, N.C.
And Gusler described his love of the Players’ Retreat, one of Raleigh’s most famous bars and restaurants, which he bought in 2005. “When I got here in ’67 it was the first place I went and had a beer… It’s always been a very eclectic place,” he said, “where you’ll walk in and there’ll be a plumber sitting there drinking a PBR on Friday afternoon and at the next table, the governor’s sitting there or the mayor, dressed up, eating an early dinner to go to the symphony, and everybody gets along.”