Unless an organization is prepared to have James Gardill as its board member or volunteer for at least a decade, someone should think long and hard before inviting him, because dedication is one of his strongest suits.
Gardill, managing partner of Phillips, Gardill, Kaiser & Altmeyer PLLC in Wheeling, focuses on banking law, commercial law, tax law and estate planning. He lends that expertise to several charities, assisting in their planned giving programs and any other services he sees are needed because making connections is another one of his specialties.
Gardill grew up in Moundsville, joking that he "didn't make it very far."
He got a political science degree from West Liberty State College and spent four years in the seminary, but after applying to law school, he was drafted by the Army. After serving from 1968-1970, West Virginia University College of Law held a spot for him to attend.
"There wasn't a direct path," Gardill said. "I had a crazy quilt career."
Gardill says he was interested in the law, and shortly after graduating from law school, he was appointed to a number of criminal cases.
Doing court-appointed work put him on a number of major cases right away, but he learned two things quickly.
"I began to discover the economics of law practice, and you still have to make a living," he said. "I tried to broaden my practice, and those cases taught me that I didn't want to do criminal work.
"The nice thing about a law degree is it opens horizons to you that you can pursue from a number of avenues."
Gardill met his wife, Linda, a Morgantown native, at WVU, where she was finishing her master's degree in English. The couple married in 1972.
When Gardill started at the firm, there were two principal partners who taught him to balance both the scholarly side of law with the work side of law. His practice started to narrow in on banking, and he started working with WesBanco Bank when he first joined the firm in 1973. He served on the bank's board and then stepped down for a few years while waiting on a muddy law about conflicts of interest to clear, and he went back on the board in 2007. He's been able to guide the bank's growth through about 35 acquisitions since 1984. Gardill also is proud of the $700 million in loans the bank made in West Virginia in 2012.
"I like the work, I like the challenge, and I especially like the people I work with," Gardill said. "We've had some very talented people I've gotten to work with over the years, and that's given me enthusiasm for the work and the relationship."
Gardill speaks a lot about "connectivity," since his many extracurricular activities have several ties that bind his many relationships together.
Gardill became a member of the local board for Easter Seals in 1978, which was the year his father died.
"He had a serious leg problem, so he walked with a very significant limp that was a restriction for him," Gardill said of his father. "Today they could've fixed that, but back then they didn't.
"I've stayed active, and it's been a great outlet because it's a very rewarding thing to see."
Gardill also volunteered to serve as Glen Dale's municipal judge 36 years ago. He joked that people outside Glen Dale might not take the position too seriously, but it serves a community need.
"I do that a couple of nights a month," he said. "Fortunately, I don't have a lot of authority, but I live in Glen Dale, and so it's been a part of my life.
"I don't mind serving voluntarily, and they haven't fired me yet."
Gardill also helped Reynolds Memorial Hospital change its structure to create a holding company.
"They needed a business person to serve when they formed this entity in 1991, and then they also formed a foundation, Reynolds Memorial Foundation, as a fundraising arm for the hospital," Gardill explained. "In each of these, I've played a different role."
Gardill has worked with the West Virginia Catholic Foundation since 1997, helping the fundraising arm for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.
He also is heavily involved in the WVU Alumni Association, serving on its board for six years and chairman from 2005-2007.
"I was interested in WVU sports and attending sporting events, so I got interested in what the Alumni Association was doing," Gardill said. "Lo and behold, they put me on their board.
"Each of these entities I've worked with and served with, I've learned a lot from them, and they've helped me do a better job for my clients by having a broader base of experience and working and interacting with multiple groups and different specialty areas, so it's just expanded the experience I've had and the opportunity to learn."
Gardill said his financial experience helped WVU build its new Alumni Association, and since all three of his children have degrees from WVU, he was able to involve his entire family in his work — something he said he has done with each of his volunteer activities.
Linda Gardill taught English at John Marshall High School for nearly 35 years and was active in several extracurricular activities before her retirement.
"We just tried to instill in our children the same kind of proactive professional-private life combination," James Gardill said.
Chris Gardill practices at the same firm as his father, having received his undergraduate degree from Marietta College and a master's in business from Wheeling Jesuit University before earning a law degree from WVU. Chris' wife, Jodie, has both undergraduate and graduate degrees from WVU and is an attorney and associate director with Legal Aid of West Virginia.
Gardill's daughter, Catherine, has both undergraduate and law degrees from WVU and is married to Army Capt. Jason Ballard, who boasts a law degree from WVU. The Gardills' younger daughter, Rebecca, is a teacher with undergraduate and graduate degrees from WVU.
"Rebecca married a Hokie, as I like to call him," Gardill joked about his son-in-law, Andrew Wagner. "He's a Virginia Tech fan, and he went to Radford College, so I'm not sure how we got him, but we welcomed him into the family."
Gardill said long-term commitments carry throughout his firm. His secretary, Marilyn Redd, has worked in the office more than 40 years; his assistant, Marilyn Robinson, has been there nearly 30 years; and he credits the other lawyers in the firm with making his busy life possible.
"I certainly couldn't have participated in these activities or completed the work we have done without the support of our entire office," Gardill said.
He also pointed out that his life has constantly had structure — from days in the seminary to the army, when 5:30 a.m. wake-up calls were the norm and his law school days when he worked at Kroger to make ends meet.