A gentle, fragrant breeze wafts through the open French doors in the garden room as Susie Gogue says one last goodbye to alumni luncheon guests. Having an interest in interior design, the Birmingham donors came for lunch and a tour of the refurnished president’s home at Auburn University.
As staff begins to clear the round dining table in the garden room centered with yellow and white roses, Susie relaxes at the nearby sitting area to reflect on her and Jay’s earlier years as Auburn students, the changes and their life since returning.
As First Lady of Auburn University, she spends much of her time entertaining a variety of guests. While entertaining at the president’s mansion is paramount for her position, Susie is poised and comfortable in the role as a gracious hostess. Her manners are polished and sophisticated, while warm with a touch of southern hospitality.
Since Dr. Jay Gogue became president in 2007, their calendar has been filled with welcoming guests into the home or entertaining for 200 at dinner in the new pavilion adjoining the garden. When the Gogues were students at Auburn in the late 60s, they never dreamed they would one day be living in the president’s residence.
Susie and Jay have known each other since elementary school. Jay was born and raised in Waycross, Ga., where his family operated a nursery and flower shop. Susie and her family moved to Waycross from Baltimore, MD., when she was 5 years old. Although they attended different elementary schools, they met through Jay’s best friend, whose grandmother lived across the street from her family. Susie’s father was a surgeon, and her mother was a nurse before she had children. In the ninth grade Susie and Jay attended the same school and began dating.
After high school, Jay enrolled at Auburn University. He was familiar with Auburn since his father had taken classes through the horticulture program.
Susie wanted to attend Auburn, but females in her family went to Agnes Scott where her great aunts taught. She opted for an all girl’s school in Macon her freshman term while trying throughout the year to convince her father to let her change to a university. She knew he would allow her to go to Auburn if she offered him a choice with the University of Georgia, which had a reputation as being a party school.
“Oh, no, not Georgia,” her father said. “At least Auburn is a great engineering school and has a good reputation.” She came to Auburn that summer.
While Jay and Susie enjoyed football games, it was not the same experience as now. “There wasn’t any tailgating,” she remembers. “You wore your Sunday clothes and heels, no matter how hot or if it was pouring rain.” She preferred basketball games.The couple married in September 1968 before their senior year. Susie graduated with a degree in sociology. Jay accepted an assistantship in the horticulture department while working on his master’s degree.
“Jay knew he didn’t want to go into business with his father,” says Susie. “He wanted to further his education and thought about having a university career as a professor.”
Susie wasn’t sure what she wanted to do as the choices were limited. She accepted an assistantship for a master’s degree in the School of Home Economics. They both received master’s degrees in 1970.
They moved to Michigan State where Jay received his doctorate. Since he had been in advanced ROTC and the Vietnam War was winding down, he expected to be called for active duty. While he had offers from two universities, he felt he couldn’t accept.
Jay took a job as a plant science researcher for the National Park Service, thinking it would be easier to vacate for the service.
After moving to Mississippi for Jay to work at the Stennis Test research lab, he received a letter from the Army stating since the war was ending, he could serve in the reserves.
“Jay ended up loving the National Park Service and what he was doing,” says Susie, “He stayed for 13 years before going to work at a university.”
While he was still assigned to the Park Service, he accepted a joint appointment with Texas A & M University. They moved to Washington, D.C, and then Atlanta.
During this time, Susie was busy with their three children, Jason, Alison and Barrett. She was active in volunteer work.
While in Atlanta, Jay was told it was time to return to Washington. Their children were just starting their teen years, and they didn’t want to raise them in the D.C. area.
“Jay said it was probably time to start looking at that university career we had talked about,” says Susie. He accepted a position for vice president of research at Clemson where they stayed nine years.
From Clemson, they moved to Utah State University and then to New Mexico State University where Jay served as president. While in New Mexico, they were smitten with Santa Fe and purchased a house there, which they kept as their home while serving as president of the University of Houston and when returning to Auburn.
After being away for many years, they were amazed at the tremendous growth, not just on Auburn’s campus but the town. “It was still the same feeling, the same War Eagle spirit,” says Susie. “The core values were the same, and that was heartwarming.”
She saw a total change at football games with tailgating. While they were at several football colleges, she did see a difference. “The other places didn’t talk about football 365 days a year like they do at Auburn.”
Shortly after arriving, the board appointed a seven-person committee to work with her on sprucing up the president’s home. The five-column house was built in 1939 and has been furnished by the presidents and their families.
The major renovation was the construction of new restrooms. The only restroom on the first floor was a tiny powder room under the staircase from when the house was built. A wall was removed in the garden room to extend two handicap accessible restrooms.
The wood floors were stripped and lightened to their natural sheen. Old wallpaper in the foyer was stripped and walls painted. While a few pieces were purchased including two sofas in the living room, most of the furniture was upholstered.
Artwork throughout is by Alabama artists. The painting over the mantel in the living room is on loan from the Jules Smith Collins Museum. Sconces were added for soft lighting on either side of the fireplace.
“Our thoughts were the house had to look classic,” says Susie, “but at the same time, it has to be functional because we entertain a great deal.”
Among the furnishings is a grandfather’s clock from the estate of former Alabama Governor Charles Henderson. Caroline Draughon remembers the clock was transported by hearse in the late 1940s. The Henderson estate also donated the antique English mahogany secretary.
The china cabinet was moved from the dining room to the foyer and is filled with books by Auburn faculty. The dining room was updated with paint, new drapes and a rug.
Windows flanking the original doors in the garden room were replaced with French doors to the porch for a smoother flow while entertaining in the Garden Pavilion. In front of the renovated Thunder House, the reflecting pool was painted black to enhance new cattail fountains. Floral accents and Yoshino Cherry trees form a sublime setting for receptions.
When entertaining, the Gogues stand at the front door to greet everyone as they arrive. Guests walk through the home to the porch and to the pavilion.
“All universities entertain now because state funding is not what it used to be,” says Susie. “University presidents now spend 90 percent of their time entertaining and raising funds.”
Susie works with Special Events and has a major role in every aspect of entertaining.
The Gogues try to keep Sunday night for just the two of them, although when invited to student organizations, they make the exception.
While she has been focused on getting the house and grounds in order, Susie is involved in several organizations and serves on the board of the Lee County Youth Development Center.
What she has enjoyed most about being First Lady is having the opportunity to come in contact with interesting individuals whether they are students, alumni or distinguished guests. As the afternoon sun falls across the formal garden, Susie retires to the back porch, a private spot for family. It is her favorite place along with the garden room. Soon there will be a flurry of activity, and the house standing stately amidst campus life will be filled with guests. Susie will make them feel welcome, offering an evening to remember in the elegant home, enveloped with visions of the past as it looks to the future refreshed for another chapter of Auburn University.