Tim Gomez, center back, and members of the Orlando Magic basketball team hand out more than 200 free backpacks stuffed with pencils and art supplies to pupils in Parramore, a poor neighborhood in Orlando, Florida. Gomez's company, teamed with the Magic and Amway, has handed out more than 2,100 backpacks to children in the past three years. (Photo from Dixon Ticonderoga)


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By Steve Tuttle
ECU News Services

It was 22 years ago, but Timothy Gomez ’92 ’95, chief executive of Dixon Ticonderoga, the world’s largest pencil company, vividly remembers the day his life changed and the East Carolina University professor who changed it.

It was his senior year at ECU, and Gomez—a poor kid from Elizabeth City who was working his way through college—was thinking about a career after graduation. He skipped class one day to drive to Raleigh to take the Coast Guard Officer Candidate School exam.

The military seemed like an acceptable career choice to Gomez. His dad was a career Coast Guardsman. Gomez had grown up in coastal communities and loved boating.

“When I got back to ECU, I heard that Dr. (Barry) Duvall wanted to see me in his office,” Gomez recalls. “I thought I was in trouble for skipping his class. When I got to his office, he said he had heard what I had done and he wanted to know why I was throwing my life away.

“He had two pieces of paper in his hand. The first one was an application to the master’s degree program in the school in industrial technology. And I said, ‘Dr. Duvall, I really tried but my grades are a little short of qualifying for graduate school.’ And he said, ‘I’m the dean of the graduate school; I decide who gets in. Sign here.’

“Then I told him I didn’t know if I could afford graduate school. Having to pay your way through college is not easy. I was working 40 hours a week at the Holiday Inn in town just to get by.

“And then he handed me the second piece of paper. It said I would have a paid internship at Burroughs-Wellcome, 20 hours a week, good money.”

Remembering that incident, Gomez wrote this on his blog at his company website:

“Throughout our adolescent and college years, we
At upper right are Tim Gomez, left, and ECU professor Barry Duvall. Dixon Ticonderoga donated $1,500 to Duvall for a research project. In the lower image, Gomez speaks at Northeastern High School May 7. He attended NHS as a youth and was delivering 50,000 pencils in memory of his deceased English teacher. (Contributed photos)
meet a variety of teachers that lead us, guide us and sometimes impact us in a way that challenges the person we are and makes us see something even greater. Dr. Duvall did that for me. In one short conversation he changed the rest of my life.”

‘Thank you, Mrs. Flood’

That Gomez made it into college is a credit to his English teacher at Northeastern High School.

Gomez played three sports at Northeastern. He also worked long weekend hours at a pizza place to earn spending money.

He had limited time and interest to devote to his studies. His father, a native of the Philippines, and his mother, who was from Wilmington, had divorced, and times were tough. “There were periods of my life when we lived in public housing, and I was on welfare,” he recalls.

And then he met Wilma Flood.
“You had to know this lady. She was amazing,” Gomez says. “She didn’t let us get away with a lot. If it hadn’t been for her, I would never have gone to college.”

Gomez was saddened in May when he learned she had died. He returned to Elizabeth City for her memorial service.

Northeastern High School teacher Michelle Johnson hands pencils to Tahlik Kellog, 15, center, as he walks out of the gym. (Photo courtesy of Elizabeth City Daily Advance)
He came bearing gifts—50,000 pencils for Northeastern students and 50,000 for students at Elizabeth City Middle School. Each was stamped with the message “Thank You Mrs. Flood.”

Gomez also wanted to demonstrate his appreciation for Duvall. He drove from Elizabeth City to Greenville bearing a check for $1,500 to support Duvall’s research in recycling.

“I remember him as an enthusiastic guy and a real go-getter,” Duvall says. “When he contacted me after all those years it was a shock. It really makes you feel good when (former students) remember you.”

Duvall is perfecting a recycling technology developed in Japan that reverses the process of turning petroleum into plastic products. Ground up bits of plastic put in the machine are returned to the raw materials the plastic was made from. Gomez plans to use the technology at Dixon Ticonderoga to improve the company’s already extensive recycling programs.

Reaching the corner office

A second internship that Duvall arranged for Gomez during graduate school led to a job with ABB, the global power and automation technologies company. ABB identified Gomez as a high-potential employee and sent him to Cambridge University in London to study for a master’s degree in business leadership.

There he learned the Lean Six Sigma system of efficient manufacturing practices. He used those skills to rise through the ranks at ABB and Brunswick Corp.

He joined Dixon Ticonderoga in 2006 as senior vice president of operations and radically improved the company’s warehousing and distribution functions. He was elevated to CEO and vice chairman of the board of directors in 2010. Under Gomez’s leadership, sales have increased by 50 percent.

Headquartered in Heathrow in central Florida, privately held Dixon Ticonderoga manufactures the ubiquitous yellow No. 2 pencil and a range of art materials and office supplies under the Ticonderoga, Prang, Dixon, Oriole, Das and Lyra brands. At 219 years old, Dixon Ticonderoga is one of the oldest companies in the country. The world’s largest producer of pencils, it turns out about 1.5 billion a year.
TIM and LEE with PENCI_opt
Gomez and Lee Corso of ESPN pose with a pair of giant pencils.

Now owned by an Italian company, Dixon Ticonderoga has about 200 employees at the Florida headquarters and at distribution sites across the country. Manufacturing is done overseas and in Mexico by factories owned by Dixon.

As one might expect from a producer of writing instruments and art supplies, Dixon Ticonderoga for decades has supported public schools. Gomez intensified that support and now devotes many hours of his time to charitable work in support of teachers and schools nationally and in the central Florida area around Orlando.

“One of my goals is to donate enough pencils (that if lined up end to end would) stretch from coast to coast,” he says. “I’m about halfway there.”

Through a partnership with the Kids in Need Foundation, Dixon Ticonderoga has donated enough pencils and other school supplies to fill the backpacks of 2.8 million children attending Title I schools, or those with large concentrations of low-income students. The company donates an average of $1.5 million a year to Kids in Need.

Gomez, his wife, Terri, and their daughter, Gabriella, enjoy boating in their spare time.

“I definitely focus on my social responsibility,” he says. “All of my social activities—on personal and professional levels—revolve around supporting teachers.”

‘Learning to be humble’

Leyton Getsinger ’69 was associate vice chancellor for administration and finance at ECU when he met Gomez as a freshman in 1988. Getsinger was looking for a hard-working group of students to help relaunch the Theta Chi fraternity on campus. One of the oldest fraternities on campus, Theta Chi had folded in 1971.

Getsinger, himself a Theta Chi brother, was impressed by Gomez.

“Tim was a hard charger who was extremely focused, committed to both his academics and the fraternity. He was the kind of guy who says if it’s mine to do, it will happen.”

Gomez says Getsinger assembled a remarkable group of students. “We were 26 young men who were ambitious, we were all athletic and committed to our studies. We definitely believed in diversity. We decided we wanted to be different, and we wanted to be remembered for starting our own traditions.

“(Getsinger) would have us over to his house, feed us and teach us how to be responsible young men. I remember seesawing for 24 straight hours in front of the Theta Chi house (on East 11th Street) to raise money for Special Olympics. I remember collecting money on Greenville Boulevard.

“Learning how to be humble in life—that’s one important thing I learned (from Getsinger),” Gomez says. The Epsilon Iota Chapter of Theta Chi officially rechartered in 1991 with Gomez as a founding member.

Gomez manages to save some hours out of his busy week for quality time with his family. He lives on the water near New Smyrna Beach, Florida, and enjoys boating with his wife, Terri, and their 9-year-old daughter, Gabriella. He recently renewed his Merchant Mariners Captains License “which means if there is a war I could be called into the Navy.”

He has a 27-footer that he likes to take offshore for deep-sea fishing, and a Boston Whaler for everyday fun.

He says he won’t forget Mrs. Flood and Dr. Duvall. “Going back was just a start, it’s not the end. I’m making plans to go back and put some programs in place there,” he says.