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W&L Establishes Connolly Endowment for Shepherd Poverty Program

Washington and Lee University has established the J. Lawrence Connolly Endowment for the University’s Shepherd Program for the Interdisciplinary Study of Poverty and Human Capability, thanks to a gift of $1 million from Leigh and Larry Connolly, of Atlanta. The endowment will support curricular and co-curricular programming.

“It’s a good investment. The program has come so far in such a relatively short period of time.  Tom Shepherd’s vision is becoming a reality,” said Larry Connolly, a member of the University’s Class of 1979.

He is the former CEO of Connolly L.L.C., a recovery audit accounting and consulting firm. Through a gift from Connolly earlier this fall, W&L named its entrepreneurship program the J. Lawrence Connolly Center for Entrepreneurship.

Tom Shepherd is the 1952 graduate of W&L who, along with his wife, Nancy, started the innovative program in poverty studies at the University.

“Larry has been incredibly generous to the Shepherd Program over the past few years, through his tireless work as a member of our alumni advisory board, through his active involvement in our internship program, and now through this remarkable gift,” said Howard Pickett, director of the program since July of this year. “We in the Shepherd Program can’t thank him enough.”

Connolly traces his interest in the Shepherd Program to the 20th-reunion gift that his class designated for the program in 1999. His classmate Robert Balentine, a W&L trustee, organized the gift. “I found it of interest,” he said of the Shepherd Program. “And then when we came back for the 25th reunion, we got an update. They showcased one of the students, which was a smart marketing move. And in five years, you could see how much had evolved. And then I started getting more involved.”

Since then, he’s forged a friendship with Harlan Beckley, the Fletcher Otey Thomas Professor of Religion at W&L, who stepped down as founding director of the Shepherd Program this past June. “He’s terrific about always reaching out,” he said of Beckley. “And I’ve gotten to know Howard Pickett and feel very good about him succeeding Harlan.”

Connolly has also set up the Connolly Family Foundation, which has childhood poverty as its focus. His gift to W&L, he said, “is consistent with the philosophical direction of the foundation.”

In 2010, Connolly, who also serves on W&L’s Entrepreneurship Advisory Board, and his wife, Leigh, established an endowment to support W&L interns working in Atlanta through the Shepherd Alliance, a summer internship program administered by the Shepherd Poverty Program.

At the end of each summer, Connolly treats the interns to dinner, where they tell him about their experiences. “I see the quality of the students,” he said. “The internship is having its desired effect. They are young and passionate and ready to conquer the world and solve its problems.”

Occasionally he has pegged a student as pursuing the internship more for how it would look on a résumé,  and less because of a genuine passion for the subject. He’s happy to be proven wrong, as when he recently learned that an intern whom he’d put in that former category had worked on poverty-related issues after graduation and before entering the business world. “It’s just a matter of time before she circles back,” he said, “and re-engages in some kind of philanthropic endeavor, for which she is now extremely well equipped.”

Along the same lines, Connolly sees an overlap between the Connolly Center for Entrepreneurship and the Shepherd Program. After all, Shepherd students who gain experience working for nonprofits may one day run such organizations. Pickett concurred: “I am especially excited about the ways Larry’s gift might deepen the growing partnership between our poverty studies program and the social entrepreneurship offerings here at W&L.”

Connolly draws another parallel between the two programs when he talks about the high quality of their students. “It always generates a strong feeling of hope given the kinds of graduates we’re producing,” he said. “We’re turning the future over to good hands.”