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Gary Lavergne: Staff member by day, author by night

Gary Lavergne, director of admissions research in the Office of Admissions, is an acclaimed author of four books, including his most recent “Before Brown: Heman Marion Sweatt, Thurgood Marshall and The Long Road to Justice.”

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Nestled in a corner office in the Main Building sits Gary Lavergne, director of admissions research.

He’s an unassuming man, with Excel spreadsheets covering his computer monitor, and stacks of admission papers anchoring the corners of his desk.

“I’m a whiz at Excel when it comes to data,” says Lavergne, who crunches numbers for all freshmen who applied and were admitted to The University of Texas at Austin.

“We are regulated by law and by courts, and so I basically have the job of making sure the numbers we report to the Legislature, to the courts and to the President’s Office are right,” he said. “And that is more than just counting bodies, you have to apply an interpretation of the law.”

However, Lavergne, who celebrated his 10-year anniversary with the university Sept. 1, has achieved notoriety outside of his role in admissions.

Lavergne is an acclaimed author of four books, including two that chronicle significant moments in the university’s history: “A Sniper in the Tower: The Charles Whitman Murders” and “Before Brown: Heman Marion Sweatt, Thurgood Marshall and The Long Road to Justice.”

University of Texas Press released his most recent book, “Before Brown,” in September.

“What I like about history is a lot of times it challenges you to be a good investigator,” he said, “to find those things that other people haven’t found and didn’t notice.”

Lavergne said the Heman Sweatt story interested him mostly because it was an admissions case. It was in the wake of the Michigan affirmative action case in 2003, when regents decided to start considering race in the admissions process, that he decided to write the book.

“I came to realize very quickly that it was a milestone in the history of civil rights and no full-length book had been written on it, and that attracted me right away,” he said. “It helped me a great deal as an admissions officer.”

For the next five years, Lavergne spent every spare minute researching, writing and chronicling the life of Heman Marion Sweatt, learning how the case paved the way for the landmark case Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka and helped establish the career of Thurgood Marshall.

“When I decide to write a book, I’ve decided to give up three to five years of my personal life,” he said. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Are you willing to spend three years of your evenings, of your Saturdays, of your vacations, of your holidays, working on one thing? Are you willing to do that?'”

Lavergne was more than willing. After all, this was his fourth time doing it.

He spent evenings in libraries, weekends in Houston — Sweatt’s hometown — and hours tirelessly typing away at the 700-page manuscript.

“I don’t consider myself a great writer. I do consider myself a great storyteller,” he said. “And therein lies the other major force in my life, my wife. She is the real writer in my family.”

Lavergne’s wife, Laura — who works down the hall in the Main Building — has edited all four of Lavergne’s books.

“My wife is a key to my success and maybe the cause of my success in writing,” he said. “I’ll write a 700-page manuscript and then I give it to her. She’ll take it and turn it into something publishable.”

Lavergne’s other books include “Worse Than Death: The Dallas Nightclub Murders” and “The Bad Boy From Rosebud: The Murderous Life of Kenneth Allen McDuff.”

Learn more about “Before Brown” and Gary Lavernge on his Web site.