Three North Carolina universities have received gifts in excess of $140 million. About half is going to Wake Forest University to fund student scholarships.
The $70 million gift to Wake Forest comes from the late Porter B. Byrum, bringing his lifetime giving total to more than $120 million. Queens University of Charlotte and Wingate University are also part of the bequest.
Byrum grew up in poverty, graduated from Wake Forest's law school in 1942, and was a combat soldier in World War II before returning home to North Carolina, where he made his way as an attorney and businessman.
Wake Forest President Nathan Hatch says he feels tremendous gratitude for Byrum and his gifts.
“He was a deeply humble person. He earned a fortune through his own shrewdness and investments. And he wanted to give back,” says Hatch. "So, that leaves me deeply grateful, and sort of examining my own life in terms of am I passing it on in similar kinds of ways.”
The money will go toward student scholarships targeting first generation and middle class college students like Jessica Bell, a Winston-Salem attorney who graduated in 2005 from the Wake Forest School of Law thanks to Byrum's helping hand.
“I always had a deep sense of gratitude to Mr. Byrum, and I felt that all the way through. I always tried to send him letters to let him know how much we appreciated it,” says Bell. “And even later on, my daughter drew him some pictures when she was little just to say thank you, thank you for helping my mommy, and helping me.”
To date, Byrum's scholarships have allowed more than 350 Wake Forest students to have the same educational opportunities he enjoyed. When asked what advice she would give future scholarship recipients, Bell has a ready answer.
"Try to pay Mr. Byrum's gift forward,” she says. “He could have easily used his resources and wealth for his [own] benefit, but instead chose to spread it to students who then go out and multiply that gift around the world," she says. "I try to honor his legacy and pay the gift forward by working in the community with pro bono and volunteer service, and giving to charitable causes.”
Attorney, businessman and philanthropist Porter B. Byrum passed away on March 27, 2017. He was 96 years old.