Captain of the Team, Again



Gary Melchionni, Duke Alumni Association President

Melchionni: a more responsive, visible, involved DAA. Jim Wallace.

For Gary Melchionni '73, J.D. '81, president of the Duke Alumni Association for 2001-02, the initial draw exerted by Duke could be summed up in a single word: basketball. Melchionni, who grew up in southern New Jersey, was recruited by Vic Bubas and then by Bubas' successor, Bucky Waters. "I went down for my official visit in the spring of 1969, and I was pretty much sold on the place after that. It's really not fair to the competition for a prospect to see Duke in the springtime. You just get blown away by the beauty of the campus."

As an undergraduate, Melchionni majored in English, studying under such luminaries as Reynolds Price '55. These were "tumultuous years" for a student and a student athlete, he notes: There were protests sparked by America's involvement in Vietnam and Cambodia, and the men's basketball team saw an unusual number of defections.

As a basketball player, Melchionni accumulated a host of honors: GTE/CoSIDA Academic All American, All-ACC First Team for Basketball, Duke basketball MVP, and, for two seasons, captain of the team. For five years after graduating, he pursued a professional basketball career, playing several seasons in the NBA and in Italy. But he kept alive his dream of a legal career. "I had taken basketball as far as I was going to take it. I was ready get into the real world, and a legal career seemed like a very good way to go."

A particularly good way to begin that career was at Duke's law school. He had been accepted as a Duke senior, and he had been allowed to defer his admission while he pursued possibilities in basketball.

In 1981, Melchionni, who lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he is an attorney with Stevens & Lee, became chair of the regional Alumni Admissions Advisory Committee. One of his most satisfying Duke experiences, he says, is keeping track of some of the students he interviewed--a group that numbers in the hundreds. He has also headed the planning efforts for the fifteenth, twentieth, and twenty-fifth reunions of his undergraduate class. Since 1994, he has been a member of Duke Alumni Association's board of directors, where he has chaired its Awards and Recognition, Clubs, and External Programming committees.

"I'm very grateful that I had the chance to obtain two degrees from Duke and to play with some success in its basketball program," he says. "I've wanted to stay involved with Duke, and in that process to give something back to Duke."

Melchionni says he's been impressed with the active engagement of the DAA board, especially in advocating information technology and supporting the move to a larger-scale spring reunion weekend. And he sees future dividends from the board's current strategic-planning process. "The board has spent a lot of time and effort on making this a living, breathing document, and now we want to make sure that we stay focused on its objectives. I think alumni will see a more responsive alumni association in terms of the depth and breadth of services provided. They'll also see a more visible alumni association, one that's actively involved in the life of the university."

He also notes that the events of September 11 brought out the best in the Alumni Association, and in the university. Alumni affairs administrators were quick to assemble and disseminate information about victims with Duke connections.

As president, Melchionni says he's eager to have the strategic plan implemented, and to strengthen the voice of the alumni association in university decision making. Beyond those immediate goals, "We're laying the groundwork now for our goal of building a new alumni center. Certainly, I want to do everything I can during my term to nurture that process."

Among the beneficiaries of that process will be two of his children: Monica, a sophomore at Duke; and Lee, a highly touted basketball player, now a high-school senior, who has committed to the university as part of what is being called the Blue Devils' best recruiting class ever. (Melchionni and his wife, Karen Moore Melchionni, have a third child, Dean, a sixth-grader.) "It's a little disconcerting to be known as Lee's father," Melchionni says. "But it's terrific that he's going to Duke."

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