WHAT’S IN A NAME
By Jake Bittle
Originally opened in 1984, Gaither High is one of the most significant landmarks on Dale Mabry Highway. With an enrollment of over 2,000 students and an established suite of sports programs, the high school has already made a name for itself in Hillsborough County, despite being relatively new.
However, its namesake comes from a different high school, one with more than a hundred years of history and heritage — Hillsborough High.
Lutz resident Laura Novy graduated from Gaither in 1986 and has been living in the area for more than 20 years.
“I think he was on the school board … I’m not really sure,” Novy said when asked what she knew about the namesake of her alma mater.
Vivian Gaither, for whom the school was named, was born in a small town called Tallassee, not to be confused with Tallahassee, in the heart of Alabama.
Raised on a farm, he grew up as one of eight boys and learned the value of discipline and diligence. At first Gaither wanted to be a lawyer, and took a teaching job while saving the money needed to enter law school.
He found he liked teaching so much he gave up law and pursued education, later becoming principal of a school in Catula, Ga. and received his bachelor’s degree in education from Peabody College.
In 1925, Gaither moved down to Florida to accept a teaching contract, acting as principal of Woodrow Wilson Junior High. During his five-year tenure there, he visited Columbia University in New York during the summer until he earned his master’s degree in education in 1930.
After short stints at Benjamin Franklin Junior High and Plant High, a choice that devoted Hillsborough students thought to be a slight bit of heresy, Gaither became principal of Hillsborough in 1933.
Hillsborough, the oldest school in the county, has a robust alumni association and much of the information about Gaither comes from that group’s newsletter.
During his 33-year stay at Hillsborough, according to the alumni association, Gaither earned the unwavering respect of all his students, embodying the spirit of the school and acting as a fair and efficient principal.
He was known to regularly attend the school’s sporting events in full Terrier regalia. In 1937, he married a Hillsborough graduate, Jacqueline Bettis.
During his career, Gaither was named an Honorary Doctor of Education by the University of Tampa. He was heavily involved in the First Baptist Church, and was a high-ranking member of the Hillsborough Masonic Lodge.
Out of a list including Dale Mabry High, Carrollwood High, Northdale High and Odessa High, Vivian Gaither was chosen to be the namesake of the newly opened school, paying homage to Gaither.
That decision led to another name change — for the football stadium named at Hillsborough. School leaders there removed the Gaither name, not wanting to have a stadium named for a rival school. Still, Gaither remains an honored presence at Hillsborough — a prominent oak tree shades the courtyard and his desk is on display in the media center.
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