The Last Diploma He Got Was in High School, but Ed Gorman, 69, Is Setting His Cap on a Masters from Oxford

updated 04/20/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/20/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Ed Gorman has achieved a lot in his lifetime. Raised in Baltimore during the Depression, he worked as a warehouse clerk, financial investigator and marketing executive before winding up as chairman of a chain of women's fashion shops. Early last year the retired executive decided that "having done what I'd set out to do in business, it was time to get my academic experience." What he had in mind was a bit more ambitious than night school classes. Gorman is now enrolled in a one-year program at Oxford University, pursuing a Master of Studies degree in British Commonwealth history at St. Peter's, one of the school's 35 colleges. An intellectually active man whose formal education ended with high school graduation in 1935, Gorman, 69, is the oldest American student currently registered at Oxford.

Accomplishing this feat—and earning the privilege of paying $7,000 tuition—required some salesmanship. After his first written inquiries were rebuffed, Gorman turned up at Oxford last July to plead his case in person. "He's a stimulating influence," says Dr. Gerald Aylmer, 60, Master of St. Peter's. "He has a gift of getting on with people." Suitably impressed, Aylmer took the highly unusual step of accepting a nongraduate.

After moving his wife, Clorinda, 57, from their East Hampton, N.Y., home to an Oxford apartment, Gorman had to deal with his classmates. The university has more than its share of left-of-center students, and a few of them—inspired by Gorman's business background and income level—dubbed the new arrival "the tycoon student." But Gorman's personal warmth and academic dedication gradually won them over, eventually eliciting such admiring comments as, "You're the first businessman I've ever known who was honest." The students even extended an invitation to play touch football. "Crazy at my age," says Gorman, "but nice to be asked."

His study program will end in June with nine grueling hours of written exams. Gorman hopes to do well, but no matter what the outcome he won't regret the effort. "I just wanted to learn something," he says, "and the amount of knowledge I'm getting stuffed into my head amazes me."

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