The Gaebes at JWU Commencement

She was the woman beside the man: companion, partner, friend and soul mate — “the other Dr. Gaebe.” And when Audrey K. Gaebe ’88 Hon., wife of Chancellor Morris J. W. Gaebe, passed away on March 5, Johnson & Wales lost the co-matriarch of the JWU family.

“Truth be known, Audrey Gaebe had five sons — four boys and Johnson & Wales,” says Chairman of the Board John Yena, longtime friend and associate.

How a golden girl from Nashville, Ill., became “mother” to a university begins and ends as a love story. Audrey Klee Reidelberger and Morris “Mose” Gaebe were high school sweethearts. An honor student, cheerleader and accomplished musician, she studied at the University of Illinois. Married in 1941, Morris’ service in the US Navy took the couple to California where they became fast friends with Edward and Vilma Triangolo.

In 1947, when the Triangolos asked the Gaebes to partner in Johnson & Wales School of Business, where Vilma had studied and been employed, the Gaebes headed east.

“You are so adventurous to move to Rhode Island. You are like a pioneer,” Audrey Gaebe recalled a friend telling her. That entrepreneurial spirit brought “Greatest Generation” values to job-focused education.

While their husbands handled business “on a shoestring,” the women administered, taught, washed floors and cleaned bathrooms, all while raising families. “We’re not friends, we’re sisters,” Audrey would tell Vilma.

When Morris Gaebe declared hospitality a JWU trademark early on, Audrey was its gracious hostess. Annual staff Christmas parties and summer barbecues are legendary. “Presidents to janitors” were welcomed. Audrey made each guest feel valued. “She was that apple pie mom. God, country, family, were values that she held without wearing them on her sleeve,” says North Miami Campus Pres. Donald McGregor, J.D. with JWU since 1962.

Values were mirrored in every aspect ofher life. Involved in her church, scouting, her community and the arts, she loved cheering from the sidelines. Sons Dana, Gregor,Geoff and John were all star athletes and Eagle Scouts. “In a house with five men, she managed to keep everybody in line and did a marvelous job raising the four boys, ”McGregor says.

Fortitude and faith fueled her exuberance. Despite a near-fatal heart attack in her 40s her zest for life was never diminished. During her husband’s tenure as university president, she was a visible first lady, present at every important event. Inspired by her love for music and Johnson & Wales, in 1994 she wrote the university’s alma mater and sang it more fervently than anyone.

“I used to tease her about being a Polyanna when it came to Johnson & Wales,” says  Vilma Triangolo ’36, ’98 Hon.

“She was proud of the institution’s accomplishments and how it changes the lives of so many students,” recalls Yena.

“A remarkable human being,” “a perfect lady” who loved dancing, golf, the Red Sox and weekly dinners at the restaurant that bears her name, she took pride in her husband’s accomplishments. By his side, Audrey Gaebe, wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, traveled twice around the world.

“If you wanted to have a model for what a committed relationship ought to be, you couldn’t have found a better example,” Yena says. “They were the most important part of each other’s lives.”

And together they built a business school that became a university. “Miss Johnson and Miss Wales founded the school, but the Gaebes and the Triangolos nurtured the infant that Miss Johnson and Miss Wales gave birth to,” Yena says. “They brought the baby up.”