After 21 years with the Plant City Photo Archives, Gil Gott is set to retire later this year
Executive director of Plant City Photo Archives, Gil Gott, has announced that he will be retiring after over 25 years of service to the city.
A native of Erie, Pennsylvania, Gott originally moved to Florida with his wife in 1985. He then served as the vice president of government affairs and economic development for the Greater Clearwater Chamber of Commerce before relocating and accepting a job as the president of the Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce in 1995.
Once in Plant City, Gott also worked with the East Hillsborough Historical Society alongside then-president Ed Verner.
And when long-time Plant City area photographer Bill Friend passed away in 1999, leaving years and years of photos without a home, a new opportunity arose for Gott and Verner. While the Historical Society had little interest in collecting photos and documents of the city’s history, Gott recalls Verner arguing, “we can’t let the photos go to the dustheap of history,” before purchasing the entire collection.
“Each of those things tells a story, more so than just a piece of equipment,” Gott said. “A photograph has numerous people, places and things involved in it and each one does tell a story, so we started trying to collect those and that’s what we focused on.”
Verner then organized Plant City Photo Archives, Inc. in 2000, naming Gott as the executive director where he has now served for 21 years. For a decade during that time, from 2000 to 2010, Gott also taught history and political science at Hillsborough Community College.
“Looking over his work these past two decades, it is not possible to overstate the scope and importance of Gil’s contribution to Plant City’s knowledge of and appreciation for her history,” Verner said.
But despite working for so long in a role that aligns with his passion for history, Gott embraces the opportunities and freedom that he will be afforded in retirement.
“The problem is that I have so many different things hanging,” Gott said. “So many other projects, so many other articles and books that I’m trying to read and research, and do that type of thing, but I don’t have the time for it. So I’m looking forward to actually catching up on all of the things that I’ve been trying to do, which are somewhat related to my passion for history but nonetheless is not day-to-day like what I have been doing… I’m looking forward to actually picking and choosing the things that I want to do.”
Gott also loves to sail, something that he will have more time for in the coming years, as he takes a 32-foot sailboat out of Apollo Beach with Verner in his free time.
But even with Gott’s retirement now on the horizon, it won’t come immediately. He will continue serving as executive director through Oct. 1, with the process for selecting his eventual replacement already underway, and will then be involved in assisting the new executive director through the rigors involved in taking over the position.
“I think it’s really a good thing to have someone younger to come in,” Gott said about the future of the archives under new leadership. “When I grew up none of this stuff existed so they have much better abilities to use social media, and more social medias are being developed over time, so all of these things will be something that the new person will be able to make much better use of.”
This shift to social media and virtual programs is something that the archives had tried to focus on in recent years, especially with a pandemic limiting their in-person audience, to broaden their reach. And with a bright new future ahead for the Plant City Photo Archives, Gott will leave the organization with a sturdy foundation built on years of hard work and passion.
“To really understand who you are and where you come from, you need to understand your history,” Gott said. “And there’s an opportunity (at the archives) to just walk in and learn a great deal more than you knew before. It also gives you a different perspective on who you are, where you came from and where you’re going. I think that’s all what we offer you and it’s right here.”