Dillard Today Magazine

Edwards’ Gift of Investing

Photos by Derek White and  from the Dillard University Archives

Story by L. Kasimu Harris | Photos by Derek White and from the Dillard University Archives


jimmie youngMolded by his mother, guided by a teacher, and inspired by a washerwoman, Jimmie Edwards took his opportunity for an education and, eventually, made it his mission to grant others that same gift. 

He was an adult and well into his career in 1995 when he heard the story of Oseola McCarty, an 87-year-old woman who never married nor bore children. McCarty spent a lifetime as “the help,” scrubbing floors and saving money, and that year, she donated $150,000 to the University of Southern Mississippi.

That story stuck with Edwards. He figured if she did it, he could, too. He finished from Dillard University in 1970 with a chemistry degree. He went on to work as an analytical chemist at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Research Center in Akron, Ohio for four years, while earning his MBA from Kent State University. He finished in 1974 and took a chemical sales job in Atlanta with Union Carbide. 

jimmie youngHe was their first Black sales representative and worked there until 1981. He prospered, saved, invested, and never forgot what was given to him. Eventually, he took an early retirement from Amoco in 2008 and knew he would donate $100,000 to Dillard. He figured that with tuition about $25,000 a year, plus room and board, it would pay for a student to graduate. Then, in 2013, with his stock investments performing well, “I said why not do something really significant: do a million.”

“I felt like I owed a debt of gratitude and a debt of repayment, because I had gone to Dillard on a full scholarship,” Edwards said. “Dillard provided me with the key to my future.”

 

The Gift
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It was July 2015, and Marc A. Barnes, vice president of Institutional Advancement, was at LaGrange College when he received the message to call Edwards. Barnes got a hold of him about an hour later during a break from his annual fund class. Edwards revealed he wanted to start a scholarship fund. It was a conversation that Barnes has often with potential donors. He went through his standard list of questions: “What academic discipline you want to support, what criteria would you like to establish, and most importantly, what inspired you to establish the fund?” Barnes had one more routine question, to get an idea about how much the donor wants to provide. “Edwards responded [with] $1 million,” Barnes recalled. “I almost dropped my cell phone.”

Barnes didn’t expect the donation because his team wasn’t approaching Edwards for a major gift.  Actually, they didn’t know anything about him. Barnes instantly knew the enormous potential for the gift and the historical significance; the University has received a cumulative total of $1 million from an alumni, but never received that much as a single gift from an individual.

Edwards recalled sensing that he had done something special for the school, but didn’t know how exceptional it was at the time. “I felt like I made a promise to myself, and God had allowed me to fulfill that promise,” Edwards said. “I was happy that I could pay Dillard back, for the investment they had made in me.”

He reached a point in his financial situation where he felt comfortable enough to make the donation and still have enough money to live comfortably for the rest of his life. A large portion of the money came from stock investments. The stock hit Edwards’ target goal once before, but he let it sit a bit longer and the price fell. He decided next time it reached that point, he wouldn’t hesitate. By the time it did, Edwards was working a summer job and had retired from Amoco, which became BP, then INESO, a $54-billion international petrochemical company.  He had worked 40 years in the chemical sales industry.

“I kind of got bored sitting around the house all day, playing golf and going to the gym,”  Edwards said. So, he took a job with Delta Airlines as a customer service agent in Charlotte, N.C. After Edwards made the donation, he says he continued his normal life and didn’t think anything else about it.

“I actually made the donation from the computer in the employee’s lounge,” he said. “I made the donation on my break, and afterwards, I went right back to work making $11.14 an hour.”

Edwards expressed that he wanted to do that for Dillard, and there was never a point where he questioned if it was the right decision. He explained that between the points of knowing he could give a $100,000 and wanting to give a million, his fortune kept improving. And his goal of $1 million became more and more realistic. Edwards said: “I was being blessed financially, and I wanted to pass some of those blessings on to Dillard.”

“Since then, my stock situation has turned considerably downhill,” he said and laughed again.

He revealed that if the stock continued to go up and not down, his intentions were to give Dillard another $2 million–but, it didn’t go that way.

 

Learning to Give
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He was a child of the 1960s and grew up in Happy Hill Housing Projects in Mobile, Ala. In high school, Edwards excelled at Mobile County Training School, but higher learning wasn’t an option early on. He said that he knew his family couldn’t afford for him to attend college, so he intended to join the Air Force. “Finances were very, very limited–in other words, we were po’,’’ he said as he burst into laugher and then spelled it out for emphasis: “P.E.O.O.” At that time, he lived with his mother and two siblings; the family eventually grew to five children.

From his mother, Mary Knight Edwards, he learned to treat people as you want them to treat you, and that’s something he heard almost weekly. “Growing up in Mobile, Alabama during the segregation era, no matter how bad one person is in their treatment of you, that doesn’t mean that everybody is alike–specifically white people.” During this period in Edward’s life, his values and perspectives burgeoned, and aside from his mother, he attributes that to Belina McCants.

In 1966, McCants, his government teacher and guidance counselor, asked him if he had an opportunity to go to college, would he go. Edwards emphatically said yes. McCants believed Dillard was a good fit for Edwards and liked the University’s close proximity to Mobile.

“I sent bright and gifted students to Dillard,” McCants said. She was one of the first African-American counselors in the Mobile School system, and said it was a time when counselors had an excellent relationship with parents. McCants said Edwards and his group of classmates were model students, young people who were talented and wanted to succeed. She said Edwards formed a bond with James Hill, who was interested in computers, at a time when people knew very little about them and Carl Michael Brown, who were all in McCants’ class and have remained friends since and through Dillard and beyond.

She said Edwards, “was always calm, a handsome fellow with a head full of hair–he must look like Steve Harvey by the head now.” She admitted that she was partial to those boys in her classes, who she recalled all looked the part, at that time, with starched khakis, shirts and ties.

 “I don’t know if you recognized through my voice, they say I was a very strict teacher. I was warm, but it wasn’t buddy buddy,” McCants said. Now 92, she can rattle off names, numbers, and whereabouts of her former students with ease. “I always wanted the best for my children,” she said.

“Quite honestly, I thought she took more of an interest in me than she did some of my other classmates,” Edwards said. “However, I’ve talked with several of them, and they thought she took more of an interest [in] them than she did anybody else.”

McCants arranged for a Dillard recruiter to travel to Mobile and speak with Edwards. Several weeks later, Edwards received a letter with a full scholarship offer from Dillard. He remembered being very excited and recognizing his opportunity to go to school. Edwards said that McCants also helped to shape his worldview and taught him there are certain ways of looking at life: “You look at life to have a fulfilled and rewarding life, but at the same time doing things for other people.”

Ten students from McCants’ 1966 class matriculated to Dillard.

“I was shocked when I saw that he gave a million-dollar donation,” James Hill quipped. “Frankly, I didn’t know he had a million dollars to donate. I knew he was playing in the stock market, but I never got into the details about that,” James Hill said, who was also in McCants’ class with Edwards. Hill has known Edwards since jr. high while working as a lifeguard at a segregated pool in Prichard, Ala. He introduced Edwards to the young lady who became his first wife years later.

 

Fair Dillard

StandingHill passed up on a scholarship to Dillard, stayed home an extra year, attended University of South Alabama, and saved up money for a car– a 1955 Chevy. When Hill arrived on campus in 1968, he and Edwards lived in Camphor Hall and were roommates. Within a week of his first semester on campus, Hill’s car was stolen. He reminisced on his employment at McDonald’s on Chef Menteur Hwy., just over two miles from campus, and having to walk when the bus wasn’t running.

Hill says whenever he had to walk from work and Edwards had company in the room, that made him an unhappy camper. Edwards took karate classes at Dillard, and one evening, after walking from work, Hill arrived at their dorm room. “When I opened the door, he did one of those karate kicks, and I told him I would take [his] leg off,” Hills said, adding that Edwards laughed that kind of stuff off, too.

Hill, Edwards, and Carl Michael Brown, ‘70, who finished with a chemistry degree and eventually retired from the California Air Resources Board, are all members of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. The trio has vacationed together and watched each other’s families grow. Edwards has one daughter and three grandsons.

“My wife used to say that he is so cheap that he would go to his ex-wife to get his dental work done,” Hill said. “Now, he goes to his daughter.”

“I went to my ex-wife to get dental work, because my ex-wife was one of the best dentists I knew,” Edwards said and cackled. “My daughter is an orthodontist, and she’s the best orthodontist that I know. I get charged the same as any other patient that walks through that door.” He said his ex-wife also didn’t give him a discount.

“Jimmie is the kind of individual that would give back,” Acquanetta Reiss, ‘70 said. “I was pleasantly surprised that he was able to donate to the magnitude that he did.” She was also in McCants’ class back at Mobile County Training School. She described Edwards as well-liked by everyone and strong with a consistent personality shown through his determination. “We were gifted and talented, but we had limited resources,” Reiss remembered.

Edwards learned how to make do with very little, because he said he had very little money and emphasized how poor he grew up. He recalled that the most money he earned in life, was at Dillard up until that point, when he was on work study and made $90 a month.

“If we as students who receive scholarships and financial aid, if we can give something to the school, we should,” Edwards said. “It was an obligation to give something back; it’s certainly not an obligation for a million dollars, but an obligation to give back to the school so the school can help other students.”

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