February 25, 2011
Mildred Price Varner is greeted by President Jim Wagner.
By Maria Lameiras
A $14.4 million estate gift to Emory from alumnus James E. Varner Jr. '43C will provide financial aid to students through the Emory Advantage program.
Varner, who graduated with an economics degree, left the bulk of his estate to the Emory College of Arts and Sciences for student support.
"This gift is a powerful and direct investment in the strength of the university," says Robin Forman, dean of Emory College. "Emory Advantage grows out of the core belief that we simply cannot succeed as an institution unless we remain a destination university for the caliber of students that we would like to see join us. This gift is, in every way, a significant gift for the future of these students, the College and the University."
The Emory Advantage financial aid program was established in 2007 to ensure access to an Emory education for qualified undergraduate students from families with total annual incomes of $100,000 or less. Through the program, need-based grants reduce the education debt burden for undergraduate students at Oxford College, Emory College, the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing and Goizueta Business School. Since its inception, nearly 1,300 students have benefited from the program.
Sustaining financial aid
"The Varner bequest to Emory College is exactly the right gift at the right time. There's no greater challenge facing the college today than keeping Emory accessible and affordable," says Emory trustee and alumnus Wendell Reilly. "In the last three years alone, student support in Emory College has grown more than $30 million a year. While Emory remains committed to meeting the need of students and their families, the college has no way of sustaining that effort without the support of alumni and generous angels like James E. Varner Jr."
During the 2010-2011 academic year, Emory Advantage provided more than $6.3 million in financial aid awards to students across the university. Of that amount, about $4.2 million supported students in Emory College of Arts and Sciences. Emory was recently listed by U.S. News & World Report as one of 63 schools of 1,700 surveyed that meet 100 percent of student financial need.
An Atlanta banker with a successful career that spanned nearly four decades, Varner believed that the education he received at Emory helped him to achieve financial success in his career and that his gift to the college would help others excel.
"It is a pleasant obligation to continue to contribute to Emory and make it a little easier for students who come behind me," Varner said in a 2007 interview for the Emory Alumni Directory. He died March 6, 2010.
Varner was acutely aware that the future of this country and this world lies in the education of each succeeding generation, said his stepson, James T. Clower III '65B.
"With his knowledge of economics and finance, Jim knew that an education today is much more expensive than in the past, and that one of the major structural problems with America's society and the economy is the disparity between the education level young Americans are obtaining and the level required for the new jobs being created," Clower says.
Keeping the gate open
Varner's wife, Mildred Price Varner, and those friends who knew him best remember Varner as thrifty in his personal life, but generous in supporting those causes that were important to him. Varner was a faithful annual contributor to Emory, even during his final years of debilitating illness.
"He saw many changes and much growth at Emory through the years—different presidents, deans, professors and others. There were two he especially admired, those being [deans of alumni] Prentice Miller and Jake Ward," Mildred Varner says. "In later years he also complimented the fine work of Robert Paul, former dean of Emory College of Arts and Sciences. Through it all he was a strong believer in education, and a loyal supporter of Emory University."
"Mr. Varner's gift to the college and Emory Advantage will make a difference in the lives of students for years to come, and his legacy will enable Emory to hold character and keep the Haygood-Hopkins gate open to all qualified students, regardless of their family circumstances," says Reilly '80C, who with his wife, Mary Reilly '81C-'01T, also has generously supported Emory Advantage.
Varner's gift is part of Campaign Emory, a $1.6 billion fundraising endeavor that combines private support and Emory's people, places, and programs to make a powerful contribution to the world.