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Take Risks and Enjoy the Ride, Says Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe

March 19, 2015 —

From starting a driveway maintenance company at 14 to serving as then-President Jimmy Carter’s finance director at 22, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (L’84) thrives on risk. He once literally wrestled an alligator to secure a political donation for his former boss. But for this energetic Georgetown Law alum, the secret to success also includes being good to others and knowing how to enjoy the ride.

 On March 18, McAuliffe sat down for a conversation with Student Bar Association President Andrew Warner (L’16) at the SBA’s Distinguished Alumni Luncheon. Warner — and other members of the Georgetown Law community — got to quiz the governor on various topics. 

Why did this Syracuse native come to Georgetown? “Greatest law school in Washington. … I love Washington. I love politics.” How did that same Syracuse native become the governor of Virginia? After being “crushed” in the 2009 primary, he learned from the experience, spent four years getting to know the commonwealth and its voters, and came back to win in 2013. 

And then there’s that high tolerance for risk. McAuliffe had been at Georgetown Law for a week when a friend told him that Carter needed help with fundraising. Despite the fact that the president’s chances of winning his 1980 reelection campaign were slim, McAuliffe deferred law school for a year and became the commander-in-chief’s number-one fundraiser, wearing fake glasses to appear older. 

McAuliffe raised millions of dollars (including $15,000 when a potential donor asked him to tussle with an 8-foot, 275-pound ‘gator for three minutes as part of a Seminole tribal custom). After the Carter campaign, McAuliffe had a wealth of options but returned to Georgetown Law. “[I was told] whatever you do, Terry, get back and go to law school, because it does train you to think differently and it will be a great adventure you will always have, ” he said.

McAuliffe would go on to run former President Bill Clinton’s (F’68, H’80) 1996 reelection campaign, chair Hillary Clinton 2008 presidential campaign, and serve as Democratic National Committee chairman in addition to founding a law firm, a bank and more than 30 companies. His wife, Dorothy (L’88), is also a Georgetown Law alum.

His advice for students? “Always stay positive — and do what you enjoy doing,” he said, noting that he has had fun every day of his life. “Don’t let anybody tell you what you have to do. … Take risks; take chances. You are going to fail, so what? … I’ve had 30 different careers; I’ve enjoyed it. I’d like to do 30 more. That’s just who I am. But I tell people: It’s your life; live it, love it — whatever that may be.” 

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