For business leader, altruist and creative guru Paul Gallo, Rutland is where the magic happens
Unless this is your first visit to this area, the likelihood is high that you have touched, listened to, viewed, tasted, learned about, and been delighted at least once by a Vermont treasure dreamt up, built, championed or brought to fruition by Paul Gallo.
When CEDRR () named Paul Gallo, 61, its Volunteer of the Year on Tuesday, Nov. 14, no one was surprised — everyone who admires him was delighted. Except, perhaps, Paul Gallo himself.
As Ingrid Gallo, his high-spirited wife of 27 years, accurately predicted: “Paul is not going to love this attention. Whenever he suspects he’ll be in the paper, he warns me, as if he’s embarrassed,” she explained.
In fact, Paul Gallo’s leadership style and concomitant accomplishments are the hallmarks of an authentic servant leader — for whom contributing to the greater good is not about a job, or self-glorification, or obsession with profits. Gallo views his community work as a calling, a sacred mission. He’s the sort of leader you’d want your child to learn from and emulate.
Gallo’s day-job is as president of Magic Brush Painting, which he started in college. (He earned a B.S. in business management and marketing from then-Castleton State College.) Today Magic Brush is one of northern New England’s largest painting contractors, handling residential, commercial and institutional properties in four states.
“Paul’s first love is painting, but he does his job every single day so his guys will have jobs and be able to take care of their families,” Ingrid Gallo said.
Paul Gallo’s dedication to Ingrid, and their child, Lucia (Lucy), who is 21 and a senior at UVM, is his supreme purpose, pride and joy. Paul and Ingrid married in 1996, after a few on-again, off-again episodes resembling several plots of Friends.
In 2002, when Paul was 40 and Lucy was a month old, he received a cancer diagnosis that led to a life-altering epiphany, one that calls to mind the words of poet Mary Oliver: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
“You get hit by something that hard, and you step back and assess the needs of your community, the skills you have to help out,” Gallo said. “It became important for me to give back to Rutland,” he added.
Gallo began engaging diverse people about how to make Rutland a place where more people would want to live, work, raise families and have fun. His zeal generated an initiative called The Creative Economy — a citizen group that connects, brainstorms, and innovates. Gallo became its chair.
“Everyone had an opportunity to have a voice, to energize several different ideas and later on, good leadership,” he said. “I was more like a referee, helping everyone stay on course.”
That concerted focus and powerful collaboration led to a litany of community assets that Paul Gallo — with Ingrid as his champion — has spearheaded or facilitated over the past 20 years.
Those include: the redevelopment of Center Street; the Rutland Creek Bike/Ped Path; and the concept, launch and expansion of Wonderfeet Kids Museum. Gallo has also served on the boards of the Paramount Theater, Rutland Free Library, and Rutland Head Start, and he is currently beginning his seventh year on the board of Rutland Regional Medical Center.
Ten years after its launch, Wonderfeet is in an expanded Merchants Row location; most of its exhibits were created, built, or funded by local artisans and philanthropists Gallo personally cultivated.
Wonderfeet executive director Danielle Monroe noted, “Paul believes all businesses should be doing their part to support their local community. His contributions are exponential because every time he donates, he gets on the phone to his friends and makes sure they are doing the same,” she added.
Eric Mallette, executive director of Rutland’s Paramount Theatre, where Gallo has served as board vice president, concurred. “Paul approaches volunteerism like a triathlete approaches their next race, with tenacity, commitment, courage and a never-say-never spirit,” said Mallette.
Susan Schreibman, his business partner in the bike path project, indicated that Gallo has raised millions of dollars not only for organizations people know he has supported, but for many others, too. “Paul’s the most humble guy I know,” said Schreibman. “People come out of the woodwork to praise how he has helped them.”
A gratified graduate of Mount St. Joseph Academy (MSJ), Gallo has served on many MSJ committees, including chairing its Diversity Committee. For several years, the Gallos also have been hosts — and surrogate parents — to MSJ’s Haitian exchange students.
As both a donor and a tenacious fundraiser, Paul Gallo feels strongly that donors are justified in scrutinizing where their charitable donations will make the most impact, especially in a small community. “Ingrid and I look at a lot of impact data,” he said. “We enjoy getting as many touches as possible for the funds we commit.”
To be sure, while Gallo’s values, ethics, and unflashy demeanor are rooted in his rural and Italian-Catholic upbringing, his methods for coaxing people to contribute their time, talent, and other resources are sophisticated and strategic.
For example, he frequently texts me articles from The New York Times and The Washington Post, with concise but courteous suggestions like, “…an op-ed you should consider writing.” He has craftily cajoled me to volunteer for causes I previously had no interest in, not to mention maneuvering me to meet him at a local coffee shop at 6:30 in the morning whenever I have sought his advice.
Gallo’s warmth and passion for nurturing relationships are rooted in his DNA: His father, whom he reveres, was a door-to-door insurance salesman, and his mother worked in the MSJ cafeteria.
“Every day I try to start a conversation with a total stranger, just for fun,” Paul said. “Everyone should try it. Break a barrier, learn something.”
To that point, Magic Brush, is an apt metaphor for how Gallo approaches everything in his life, but especially his community service. Like a mesmerizing magician, his feats boggle the brain, confound the cynical, and woo those who wonder, “How in the world does he do that?”
What Paul Gallo does, in fact, is nothing short of altruistic alchemy. His true art is enticing people to see, believe and trust, as he does, that Rutland is where the magic happens.
Liz DiMarco Weinmann, MBA, is founder and owner of Liz DiMarco Weinmann Consulting, based in Rutland, serving charitable and educational institutions.
Paul Gallo (left and top) smiles with his daughter Lucia (center) and wife Ingrid (right) — all have been champions local projects.