Attleboro native Paul G. Gaffney II is a kind of modern day renaissance man who made a splash first in the Navy, where he helped advance a number of scientific endeavors, then leaped into the academic world.
He attained the rank of vice admiral, before taking the helm of the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., then moving on to become president of Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J., where he left an indelible mark. Now, he's about to retire at age 67.
Born in Attleboro to parents Paul and Pip, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Class of 1968.
"My greatest adventure was making charts off the coastline of Borneo," he said. "I spent 300 days at sea on a scientific mission funded by the United States Navy in 1978-79."
After retiring from the Navy, Gaffney became president of the National Defense University, where he held the post from 2000 to 2003, a period that enveloped the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
Gaffney said that one of his most memorable and difficult experiences was assuring the safety of his foreign student body in the wake of 9/11.
"I don't want to say it was stressful, but it certainly got my full attention," he said. "Making sure these people were comfortable being students in America was of top importance to me, as these people were all worried about their families, who were also living in the U.S."
Gaffney moved on to Monmouth University in 2003.
He said the beauty of the campus was striking, and he set about helping the university attain "the recognition it deserves."
"We've been working to pull the lampshade off of the lamp," Gaffney said. "We have some very strong programs here, and I've been hoping to get more exposure."
Those programs include Monmouth's variety of speciality Institutes, which study fields as diverse as commercial real estate, polling and software.
Many of them were created or expanded under Gaffney's administration, and, he said, are "beginning to become nationally recognized."
Additionally, Gaffney's administration saw the construction of a $54 million athletic center on campus - without the school taking on any debt.
"We like paying our people more than we like paying our banker," Gaffney said.
That very well be the school's motto: Monmouth is currently operating as the least indebted school in the state of New Jersey.
Although heading toward retirement, Gaffney is working leave the school in good standing, both in terms of admissions and finance.
The percentage of out-of-state students has swelled to 25 percent during Gaffney's tenure.
Additionally, a Friar's Club-style fundraising roast to commemorate his time at the school raised $10 million in pledged donations for the university, as well as several real estate contributions.
Gaffney will be far from idle in retirement: He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering Board, to which he makes contributions in his field of oceanography.
Gaffney said he's immensely enjoyed his time at Monmouth.
"If you look at my life overall," he said, "A common theme is that I've been around people whose average age was 20, and who were high school graduates.
"And when you're 67, that's a really nice thing. It's fantastic to be around these young men and women."