Gail Utter is an IMCA Certified Private Wealth Advisor and holds a BBA from Southern Methodist University and MBA from University of North Texas. She sits on the boards of the Austin College Board of Trustees, United Way, Grand Central Station and is co-founder of the NEWCO Mental Health/Community Service Alliance. She was named Barron’s Top 1,200 Advisors 2009-2018 and Starr Community Award winner in 2018.
“Ivanhoe” by Sir Walter Scott
“Probably not what anyone would expect to be one of the most influential readings in a person’s life, Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott was a reluctant book selection in middle school from a choice of other equally dull-sounding books at the time. Mrs. Heap gave us time in class to read for the project, so sitting straight and tall in those comfortable wooden desks on the last row by the windows, I started learning about 12th Century England and the Normans and the Saxons and the exiled King Richard and Cedric and his disinherited son Ivanhoe. Lo and behold, I couldn’t put it down. I took it everywhere I went, read it on the bus, in bed at night and even skipped lunch to put some pages away. Sir Walter Scott weaved a masterful tale of another era in those 400+ pages, introduced me to a completely different reality, and took me with him at every turn. I learned that something so different from my life and my comfort zone and my interests could be interesting, even fascinating, and that’s when I knew I loved reading and learning, and to not judge a book by its cover (or even its description).”
“Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts On Faith,” by Anne Lamott
“Early on I felt like I was watching the ‘Lucy Show’ – everything was going wrong and it was painful. Her life successes were soon met with fallbacks and subsequent confession of bad choices. Her up and down journey, however, brought familiarity and it was easy to relate. She took me laughing and relating on an unexpected ride through her life and her struggles with alcoholism and faith and family and death and more faith. Of course any time someone is at a deeper low than you are, it makes you see the relativity of your own challenges and even elicits a “Whew, I thought my life was bad!” But a big lesson for me was that it is okay to struggle, that everyone does, and to forgive yourself is not a cop-out, but an acceptable action. I’ve had a remarkably consistent history of being hard on myself, starting in the early days. I was too plump. I was shy. I didn’t have enough friends. I wasn’t as smart as her or as accomplished as him. I said the wrong thing and thought about it for days.
“But, here’s this woman with seemingly all the outward advantages in life, and she is experiencing embarrassing lows, understanding full well the right things to do, yet doing the wrong things. Lamott came to find faith and came to know and love herself. I remember somewhere in her writings her sentiment that ‘forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a different past,’ and loved that thought. The book taught me it’s a waste of time to experience guilt, forgiveness is always appropriate and that loving and knowing God create the path for loving yourself.”
“Same Kind Of Different As Me” by Ron Hall and Denver Moore with Lynn Vincent
“Published in 2006, ‘Same Kind of Different as Me’ found me at a time when I was wondering what the rest of my life might look like and whether or not it would look like a continuous loop of reruns or if instead it might take a different turn. This true story of a prosperous international art dealer and a homeless man in Fort Worth, Texas, and the lifelong relationship that ensued, at once gave me hope and shamed me. You mean homeless people aren’t different than those of us with a place to live? You mean they’re smart? You mean they’re wise, in fact wiser than me? You mean I’m smug and comfortable with my status quo and self-centered and judgmental? You mean I’m supposed to reach out to those that might struggle with not having a place for themselves or their kids to sleep or with not having enough to eat? What?
“Is that what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 25:40 (NIRV): ‘He will reply, ‘What I’m about to tell you is true. Anything you didn’t do for one of the least important of these, you didn’t do for me.”?
“Yes, I’d been on community non-profit boards, always to be part of bettering an effort that might help folks or further a cause, and always serving alongside a cavalry of caring individuals. But had I ever gotten more directly involved, a little closer to a human? Was there a way to erase the distance between my life and theirs? Were we ensuring people could survive by providing for their basic needs? Were we developing relationships and advocacy for their progress? Had we ever asked those we served what they needed, what was important to them or what they wanted their life to look like?
“My answers were wildly empty, mostly in the negative. All in the negative. But Hall and Moore would say that hope lies in the illumination that knowledge and relationship brings. When we talk to one another, when we care enough to feed each other and provide a place to learn, grow, congregate and be in fellowship with each other, we develop the bonds of relationship. We became a neighborhood of neighbors. We care enough to sacrifice in our giving. We care enough to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
“So a group of us came together to begin the Grand Central Station Dining Car, and we were joined by folks from a myriad of churches and businesses and individuals that came to volunteer thousands of hours to date and donate food, clothing, building materials, computers, Christmas gifts, music, and furniture and to give friendship. And other projects followed. Hope came in seeing caring individuals respond without hesitation and in neighbors feeling a part of something like a family. Hope on Houston is developing into a neighborhood center to offer skills, art, music, friendship and faith.
“Hope came because light brings knowledge and knowledge brings understanding and understanding brings love. That’s what happened to Ron Hall when he met Denver Moore.”