September 14, 2009

UA Alumnus Brown Committed to Sharing the Gift of Education

For University of Alabama alumnus Harry Brown, there was no question about how he wanted to give back to his alma mater. “I strongly believe that education is the answer to almost every problem you can think of,” Brown says. So it seemed natural that he establish an endowed scholarship fund that would allow the South Talladega County Alumni Chapter to help local students.

A 1948 graduate of UA’s College of Commerce and Business Administration, and the former president of First National Bank in Sylacauga, Brown started the Harry I. Brown Sr. and Margaret W. Brown Endowed Scholarship 12 years ago. Since that time, 93 students have been awarded a total of $103,000. The scholarships—$500 to $1,500 each, based on investment returns—are used as a recruiting tool and are designated for all incoming freshmen who attended one of the five public high schools in south Talladega County.

From the beginning, Brown says, he was more interested in awarding the scholarships based on strength of character and a thirst for education, rather than top grades. “When I was in school, I went up to a professor and complained about getting a C,” Brown says. “He said, ‘Listen here, Mr. Brown—when you get out of school you’ll be working for C students.’” That lesson stuck with him, and it’s never far from his mind. “Most recipients are students who didn’t make straight A’s and didn’t get the honors, but I think they’ll end up being very productive citizens,” he says. “If you are accepted to the University, you have to be a pretty sharp student.”

The University has matched Brown’s past donations with funds raised through the sale of UA car tags. “I’m so proud and pleased that the University has dedicated that tag money to support local chapter scholarships,” Brown says. “It’s one of the finest things I could think of.” He also is excited that the investments in his charitable remainder trust will one day be matched with the tag money: “I get chill bumps when I think that one day, our local alumni chapter will be able to give all these great students a whole lot more money to start their first year at the University. And although I won't be around, I know that a part of me will live on through these students.”

The scholarships also honor Brown’s late wife, Margaret, who knew firsthand what it’s like to have college out of reach. “She was the only child in her family who didn’t get a college education, because she dropped out so she could work and send her sisters to school,” Brown says. “She was behind me in everything I’ve done. I think she’d have enjoyed the same thing I’m enjoying, seeing these scholarships.”

Most gratifying, Brown says, is the knowledge that the funds will provide students with opportunities and a solid start in their careers that otherwise might never have materialized. “Doors will open for them,” he says. “Sometimes they’ll walk past one, but the fact is, those doors wouldn’t be there if not for the University.”

Few things make Brown prouder than hearing from grateful students and families who have benefited from his generosity. “I get more compliments from the mamas than I do the kids,” he says with a laugh. “People will stop me in the grocery store and say, ‘I just want you to know that my son got one of your scholarships.’ And I can understand how a little money means so much.”

He especially likes to recall a letter sent by a past recipient, thanking Brown for making it possible for him to earn an engineering degree from UA and pursue a career he loves. “That was one of the moments that got to my heart,” Brown says. “This has been one of the most satisfying and enjoyable things I’ve ever done. I’ve had a wonderful life, and part of the ‘wonderful’ has been this scholarship program.”

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