Lucille Stewart Beeson had no children of her own, but she had a genuine interest in the future of young people. Over the years she and her husband, Dwight, underscored this interest by helping numerous students pay for college.
Now, the college education of thousands of future Alabama students will be assured through a $10 million bequest from Mrs. Beeson to establish a scholarship program at Samford University. Another $1 million bequest will endow scholarships in Samford's Ida V. Moffett School of Nursing. Mrs. Beeson died Jan. 8.
The program—thought to be the largest scholarship gift in Alabama history—will provide income to be used annually in perpetuity to assist outstanding Alabama high school graduates at Samford. It is modeled after a nationally-known program at the University of North Carolina.
Recipients must qualify for The Dwight and Lucille Beeson Exceptional Scholars Program, following a process of nomination and selection by a citizens committee. The gift is to Samford, which has responsibility for administering the program in accordance with Mrs. Beeson's wishes.
"She particularly wanted to inspire students to high achievement," said Samford President Thomas E. Corts. "And she hoped to keep top Alabama students here for higher education and their adult lives."
The Beeson Exceptional Scholars program "represents a tremendous legacy from an individual who placed a high priority on the value of Christian higher education throughout her adult life," said Dr. Corts.
Mrs. Beeson envisioned a program at Samford modeled along the lines of the John Motley Morehead Scholarships at the University of North Carolina, said Dr. Corts. Established by the family of a former governor of North Carolina, Morehead scholarships are highly competitive, and involve nomination by high schools, an interview process and selection by citizens committees.
In the new Samford program, between 30 and 50 students per year will be studying as Beeson Exceptional Scholars, by present standards, Corts noted. The hope is that the program could be ready for implementation by January of 2002, according to Richard J. Brockman, attorney for the Lucille Beeson estate.
Mrs. Beeson had a special interest in the Samford nursing school because of her longtime friendship with Mrs. Moffett, the legendary nurse educator for whom the school was named. Mrs. Beeson provided funds for the building of Samford's Dwight and Lucille Beeson Center for the Healing Arts, the nursing school home, in 1988.
Mrs. Beeson and her family members—husband Dwight, brother-in-law Ralph and sister-in-law Orlean—were all major donors to Samford over the course of their lives, and at their deaths. Dwight died in 1985, Orlean in 1986 and Ralph in 1990. The brothers were associated early with Frank Park Samford, Sr., in Liberty National Life Insurance Company, which became Torchmark Corporation, now listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
Samford has 20 buildings named for members of the Beeson family, as well as a residence park, the School of Education, the School of Divinity and numerous other scholarships, programs and awards.
"Lucille Beeson was a very modest person," said Corts, "and she would not appreciate my talking about money in specific ways. So let me just say that the gifts of this one family to Samford University exceed $100 million, but the consequence and value of those gifts, great as they are, is far, far greater. Their interest and generosity have transformed this institution and made it better than most people ever thought it could be."
The Beeson Exceptional Scholars Program represents the latest—and one of the most far-reaching—examples of this transforming influence.