Feature Stories Campus Events All Stories

W&L Rector Childress Makes $5 Million Gift to the University

J. Donald Childress of Atlanta, Ga., rector of Washington and Lee University’s Board of Trustees, has made a $5 million gift to the University.

Childress is making this gift at the earliest planning stages of the University’s forthcoming campaign, which will help fund the priorities of the decade-long strategic plan approved by the Board of Trustees in 2007. Former rector Phil Norwood, of Charlotte, N.C., and current W&L trustee Warren Stephens, of Little Rock, Ark., are co-chairs of the campaign. The University will announce the campaign’s ultimate goal in 2010.

Half of Childress’ gift will establish two new professorships at W&L — the J. Donald Childress Professorship in Foreign Languages and the Sidney Gause Childress Professorship in the Arts.

Childress, a 1970 graduate of W&L, has also designated $500,000 of his gift for a challenge fund for the new W&L Hillel House, a $4 million project that will result in a new facility for Washington and Lee’s Hillel. With $1.5 million left to raise, the Childress challenge represents a third of the remaining funding.

Childress has not yet designated $2 million of his gift.

“This is a magnificent gesture on Don Childress’ part,” said Washington and Lee President Kenneth P. Ruscio. “We are extraordinarily grateful for both his leadership and his vision in identifying initiatives that are so critically important to the University’s future.”

In establishing the new professorships, Childress also boosts the Lenfest Challenge for Faculty Compensation. In 2007, Washington and Lee benefactor and alumnus Gerry Lenfest ’53, ’55L committed $33 million as a challenge gift to match dollar-for-dollar any new gifts to support faculty compensation. Consequently, the Childress gift will mean an additional $5 million in endowment for faculty salaries.

“I was pleased to be able to make an investment in what will prove to be an important campaign for Washington and Lee,” said Childress. “There are many needs and many opportunities in our educational priorities, which stem from the strategic plan. There are many aspects of this plan, and they all cost money. I thought it was my obligation as an alumnus and as a trustee to step up with this gift.”

After earning his bachelor’s degree from Washington and Lee, Childress earned an M.B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is senior managing partner for Childress Klein Properties, one of the larger real estate development, investment and management companies in the southeastern United States. Childress has long been active in alumni activities at W&L and previously served as chairman of W&L’s Williams School Board of Advisors. He was elected to W&L’s Board of Trustees in October 2001 and named rector of the board in May 2008.

The Childress Professorship in Foreign Languages will support a distinguished professor who is both an accomplished scholar and an exceptional teacher in one of the foreign languages, preferably Spanish. The professorship is the university’s first dedicated to languages, a core part of Washington and Lee’s increased emphasis on international education as part of the strategic plan.

The Childress Professorship in the Arts is named in honor of Childress’ wife, Sidney Gause Childress, and will support a faculty member in one of the departments in the visual or performing arts, with preference for art or art history. The professorship is also the University’s first dedicated solely to the arts.

Once completed, the W&L Hillel House will be the catalyst for increasing Jewish enrollment and building Jewish community life at Washington and Lee. The $4 million fund-raising goal will cover construction costs, design fees, equipment, furnishings and an endowment for long-term maintenance. The University hopes to use the Childress challenge match to complete fund-raising in early 2009 so that construction can begin next summer. For more information on the Hillel House or the Childress challenge, contact Joan Robins, director of W&L Hillel, at (540) 458-8443 or robinsj@wlu.edu.