Calling Western Carolina University a “beacon of light and hope for the region and the state of North Carolina,” Jack Brinson thanked university officials and administrators for adding the name Brinson onto WCU’s Honors College because of his family’s financial commitment to the institution’s mission of academic excellence.
“(Wife) Judy and I are dedicated to supporting Western Carolina to make sure these gifts of love will last for a long time and future generations are impacted,” Brinson said during the naming ceremony held Sept. 4 at the Brinson Honors College outdoor plaza, with physical distancing restrictions in place. “We will do so by planning future gifts of love and estate gifting, as well. We are honored to support Western Carolina University, and in so doing, honor the memory of our two sons — Kevin Mark Brinson and Kristopher Jack Brinson.”
The Brinsons originally committed $350,000 to the university, which they increased to the $1 million mark after being inspired by the $1.23 million pledge to WCU in October 2017 from then-Chancellor David O. Belcher and wife Susan Brummell Belcher. Last fall, the Brinsons — who divide their time between Highlands and Hilton Head, South Carolina — doubled down by giving another $1 million for scholarships and experiential learning in honor of their late sons. That gift pushed the couple’s cash gift total to the university to the $2 million mark, in addition to a previously pledged planned gift.
Jill Granger, dean of the Brinson Honors College, said the dedication was a “milestone” in the history of the Honors College. “I just want to say to Jack and Judy, I am so honored to serve as the leader of the Brinson Honors College,” Granger said in a prerecorded video. “It is humbling and inspiring for us to carry the Brinson name because of your values, your leadership, your generosity, your commitment, your care and your love — these are the values we hope to inspire in our honors students so that they come through Western Carolina as citizens of the world, to care deeply about others and to have learned what it means to lead through service.”
So far, there are 242 current or former students — named Brinson Scholars — who have received scholarship support because of the couple’s generosity, WCU Chancellor Kelli R. Brown said during the ceremony.
“Thank you, sincerely, for your transformational support for scholarships, undergraduate research, study abroad opportunities and experiential learning outside of the traditional classroom,” said Brown. “You are transforming the lives of our Brinson Honors College students through your investment, while providing encouragement and support to Dean Granger and partners across campus.”
Two Brinson Scholars spoke at the event to thank the Brinsons for their willingness to invest in students, while Brown read congratulatory notes from other current and former students who had benefited from the Brinsons’ generosity.
“As a former Brinson Scholar, your dedication to ensuring that students have the means to succeed has touched so many lives, including mine,” said Abigail Fox, who graduated in May with bachelor’s degrees in secondary education and in English studies pedagogy. “Because of your support in my undergraduate studies, I was able to apply for graduate school at WCU and continue my education. They couldn’t have chosen a more thoughtful family to represent the Honors College at WCU. Thank you.”
Jack Stuckey, a Brinson Honors College student majoring in emergency medical care, said the Brinsons’ generosity gave him a new perspective on life. “Here recently, I’ve learned that it’s not necessarily the grandeur and the big shine and sparkle of life that makes it worthwhile, it’s the simple things and the things that we can depend on and rely on,” Stuckey said. “Through your generosity and through your love, which is what I think is expressed in everything you do, I’ve got an awesome roof over my head, I can go and get food whenever I need it, and the suit that I have on right now is thanks to the refund that I have received through all of my scholarships and the blessings that you all have provided. All of that to say ‘thank you,’ and congratulations on the Brinson Honors College.”
Although neither Brinson attended WCU, they became connected to the institution after alumnus Phil Walker, former chair of the Board of Trustees, asked Jack to join the Foundation Board of Directors in 2012 and after Highlands residents Mark and Kathy Whitehead asked Judy to consider joining the Honors College Advisory Board.
“Mark and Kathy had formed a very close relationship with (former Honors College) Dean Brian Railsback and other Western professors who came to Highlands to teach courses at the Center for Life Enrichment,” Judy Brinson said. “Through these associations, we learned just how important this university was to the entire region of Western North Carolina.”
“And the students here need the scholarship support,” Jack Brinson said.
Jamie Raynor, interim vice chancellor for advancement, said renaming the Honors College to acknowledge the Brinsons’ dedicated financial support of WCU’s academic excellence was a reflection of “the life-changing power of education, the spirit of paying it forward and the wonder of another’s generosity on the future of so many.”
“They have served as quiet, humble leaders to our faculty and staff, and as encouragers and champions of our students,” Raynor said.
WCU’s Honors College was the first residential honors college in the University of North Carolina System, beginning with 77 students in 1997 in Reynolds Hall. It now has more than 1,300 students and residential space in Balsam and Blue Ridge residence halls.
“As a residential college that is fully interdisciplinary, the Brinson Honors College has developed a learning community for high-achieving students that seeks to integrate the entire range of student experience, from academics to students affairs, particularly in the first and second years of the undergraduate experience,” said Richard Starnes, interim provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs.
For Jack Brinson, ensuring WCU’s continued impact on the region and state is what convinced him and his wife to secure their financial support of the university.
“One of the major reasons we’re here today is my friend Phil Walker introduced me to the Foundation Board in 2012, and I served there and enjoyed that very much. That was really a part of us getting our stuff together and being able to do the things we’ve done,” Brinson said. “Now, we look beyond these difficult times. This pandemic has just been a tragedy for this country and for the world. But we have to think about enduring, and that’s what we all will do as we go forward.”
In addition to Kevin and Kristopher, the Brinsons have three daughters, Freda, Fonda, and Karyn; five grandchildren; and two great grandchildren.