Bernard Ramsey’s legacy lives on through the investment he made in the future of UGA
Morgann Lyles got more than a few funny looks when she arrived at Westminster High School on college day her senior year wearing a UGA shirt.
A standout student at the private Atlanta school, Lyles had applied to such elite private universities as Harvard, Yale and Stanford, which she thought was her first choice.
It was the “be all, end all,” she remembers thinking at the time. But in the end, the northern California campus couldn’t compete with the opportunities offered by UGA’s Foundation Fellowship program. She turned down Stanford and withdrew applications to Harvard and Yale.
Now a sophomore, Lyles spent last summer at UGA’s Oxford campus and traveled to Berlin to study Jewish history and the Holocaust. This summer she’ll travel as a medical volunteer to Benin in West Africa, where she will live with a French-speaking family. Next spring she plans to study abroad in Senegal.
In addition, she has access to small classes taught by some of UGA’s most elite professors and lives in the French community at Mary Lyndon Residence Hall, surrounded by other students working to become fluent in the language.
“I chose very deliberately to come here,” Lyles says. “And it was a good choice.”
Bringing in top students like Lyles, who could attend almost any college in the country, is what Bernard Ramsey had in mind when he bequeathed $34 million of his estate to UGA, $23.4 million earmarked for the Bernard B. Ramsey Foundation Fellowship. Ramsey’s death in 1996 triggered the gift, which then ignited the Honors Program and the Foundation Fellows scholarships and created a new financial award for top students—the Ramsey Scholarship, says David Williams, director of the Honors Program.
“The plan was in place for that gift to transform the school,” Williams says.
By many accounts, it has. Between 1996 and 2009, the mean SAT score for incoming freshmen at UGA rose 73 points from 1190 to 1263. In comparison, the national SAT mean rose only three points, from 1013 to 1016, during the same time period. Students who once would have been lured out of state or to private institutions are taking a second look at UGA. In the 14 years since the gift, UGA has had successive years of major national academic award winners, including six Rhodes, 34 Goldwater, 10 Truman and four Marshall scholars. In 2008 UGA was the only public institution in the country to have two students—Deep Shah (AB ’08) and Kate Vyborny (AB ’05)—selected as Rhodes scholars.
“Without this program we wouldn’t get many of these students at the University of Georgia,” says Jere Morehead, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. Morehead became director of the Honors Program in 1999. “It has transformed our ability to recruit the truly elite high school students that everyone in the country is after.”
Students like Beth Shapiro (AB, MA ’99), UGA’s first female Rhodes scholar in 1999 and one of 24 recipients of the 2009 MacArthur Foundation “Genius Award,” given to individuals who show “exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.” Shapiro is an assistant biology professor at Penn State.
And Matthew Crim (AB, BS ’05), who received a 2004 Truman Award followed by a 2005 Marshall Scholarship. Now in his third year at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Crim plans to pursue a career in internal medicine and cardiology, as well as research domestic policy issues such as health care financing.
Crim, who chose Georgia over Yale, Duke and Emory, says the Fellows program provided him an opportunity to balance his interests in medicine and political science and to explore areas that interested him, such as biosecurity, tropical and infectious disease and health care needs in third world countries. “I started reading about bioterrorism and saw a way to connect health care with security, international affairs and policy,” Crim says.
He spent summers in hospitals in Tanzania and western Thailand, teaching English to orphans and shadowing doctors. “UGA was such a fantastic experience,” he says.
Bernard Ramsey grew up in Macon and earned his undergraduate degree in business from UGA in 1937. He made the most of his college years, serving as business manager for the Pandora yearbook, secretary of the Economics Society, and treasurer and president of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. He was treasurer of Delta Sigma Pi and was elected to the Gridiron Society.
Ramsey also was cadet colonel and student commander of Army ROTC and was elected to Scabbard and Blade military honor society. After graduation he served as a cadet colonel in the U.S. Air Force during World War II.
Upon leaving the Air Force, he moved to New York and took a job with Merrill Lynch. As he moved up the corporate ladder, he maintained close ties to UGA, which he credited for giving him the skills to be successful on Wall Street. Ramsey served on the board of trustees of the UGA Foundation and also had regular contact with classmate and longtime friend William C. Hartman Jr.
He was a member of the Merrill Lynch executive board when he retired in 1973 at age 59. He and his wife Eugenia traveled the world but maintained their home in New York. They had no children. After Eugenia died in 1992, Ramsey made a $10 million gift to UGA. Half of that was designated for the Foundation Fellows program.
Between 1984, when he made his first gift—$35,000 to Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall—and the $34 million estate gift in 1996, Ramsey gave a total of $44,785,682 to the University of Georgia. In addition to scholarships, Ramsey’s gifts helped establish three endowed professorships and created a center for the study of private enterprise in the Terry College of Business. His contributions helped fund construction of a student center in the business college, a concert hall in the new Performing Arts Center and the Butts-Mehre Athletic Heritage Hall.
He called the gifts an investment in the future.
“I want a better student at [the university] so we can build a better university,” Ramsey once said. “I want a better University of Georgia so we can build a better world.”
Ramsey’s second wife, Doris, whom he married in 1993, recalls his concern that his inheritance be left to those who could put it to the best use.
“He wanted to educate young people who could make a difference in the world,” says Doris Ramsey, who lives in Athens and often hosts UGA Honors students in her home.
“His first love was scholastics and the Honors Program. He felt like this is where he got his self-esteem and his motivation to succeed.” As yet, no donor has surpassed his support for student scholarships at the university.
UGA received its first infusion of money from Ramsey’s estate in 1997. Changes began quickly as admissions and academic affairs worked to ramp up offerings to top students. The Foundation Fellowship, which had existed since 1972 with funds managed by members of the UGA Foundation, was restructured to include significant travel opportunities. The Ramsey Scholarship, offered to finalists for the Foundation Fellowship, was created in 2000. The Honors Program, which had boasted as its biggest advantage the ability to register early for smaller classes, was strengthened by plans for special seminars and research opportunities.
UGA also brought all the programs under one roof, literally, designating the renovated Moore College as the home of the Honors Program. The building now houses a library used by Foundation Fellows and Ramsey Scholars, a gathering area for students, advising offices and the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities (CURO), which began as a grant-funded program in 1997 designed to introduce undergraduate students to research opportunities with faculty. Housing created a social home for the Honors students by designating 250 of the 400 beds in Myers Hall for them. In 2001, UGA launched the Honors in Washington Internship Program, which provides stipends for students to spend the summer in the nation’s capital, working in congressional offices, corporations and nonprofit organizations.
The experiences outside Athens, particularly the international travel, open the world to many students.
“I had never traveled outside the United States,” says Amy Mulkey McGowan (BBA ’01). “It opened my eyes to the world and all that was going on.”
McGowan began UGA as a chemistry major but switched to business once she got into the Fellows program. She went to work for McKensey & Co. in Atlanta after graduation so that she could get a broad perspective of the corporate world. Two years later, after working briefly for a private equity firm, she went to Harvard for her MBA.
She returned to McKensey after completing the degree. She and husband Trey McGowan, an attorney at Georgia Pacific, are expecting their first child in August.
“For me, it just opened up the possibility of a host of opportunities,” says the Gainesville native.
Now a junior, Phillip Mote had his heart set on becoming a doctor when he entered UGA as a Foundation Fellow and hasn’t veered off course. One internship program had him in Peru for two months doing work with an epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control. As part of that program, he shadowed doctors in the naval hospital who were exploring diseases like dengue fever.
“It was a pretty cool experience to do some medical lab work where you have to suit up (in protective gear),” Mote says, adding that he learned a lot of techniques that he might not have understand as easily in a classroom.
Mote helped researchers track the spread of the H1N1 virus on a Navy ship. Through CURO he had done some molecular work at UGA’s Complex Carbohydrate Research Center and so was familiar with some of the antibody techniques used in Peru.
Closer to home, Mote bolstered the MATHCOUNTS program for students at Clarke Middle School. As a middle school student in Marietta, Mote had been active in MATHCOUNTS, a national program designed to heighten students’ interest in math, science and engineering. At first he went to the school once a week to work with the students. Two years later he and another Foundation Fellow, Betsy Allen, expanded the program to become a campus organization. MATHCOUNTS Outreach now sends about 70 UGA students into eight Athens area middle schools.
“The kids are interested in going beyond what the school has to offer and get excited about math in middle school—excited about learning,” Mote says.
Lyles too is giving back to the Athens community, through an SAT tutoring and mentoring program for minority high school students. Mentors in Christ reaches out to students through the small, predominantly black churches in the area.
“Just like the Civil Rights Movement,” Lyles says.
Two years into her coursework she has changed her major from microbiology and premed to French and African Studies and can see herself in the field of public health, perhaps in a remote area of the world.
She recalls her Foundation Fellows interview weekend when she met a former student who had returned to India to build a water tower in his hometown.
“I thought, ‘That’s having a real impact,’” she says. “He’s only 22. He’s only a few years older than I am.”
“It’s not important that I’m a doctor. If you can help someone and you’re able to, it’s important to do that.” .
To learn more about the Foundation Fellows, Ramsey scholars and the Honors Program at UGA, go to http://www.uga.edu/honors.