When Mary Estes Speight, ’53, opened a gift from her children on Christmas morning last year, she had no idea of its significance – to her personally, and to Meredith students for years to come.
Speight’s children, Chris Speight Brown, ’76, Elizabeth Speight Cooley, and Robert Wilton Speight, Jr., were looking for a meaningful and lasting way to honor their mother. With three generations of Meredith alumnae in their family and a deep commitment to helping others succeed, they decided that creating an endowed scholarship was the ideal way to both support the College and create a powerful legacy in their mother’s name.
Speight graduated from Meredith in 1953. Originally her father had encouraged her to attend Mary Baldwin, but an acquaintance convinced her Meredith offered a stronger education. A childhood education major, she formed close relationships with other students – at that time, the smaller size of the College meant that all ages of students came to know one another. According to Mary Speight’s daughter, Chris Brown, that close sense of community is one of the characteristics she and her mother cherish about Meredith. Brown also appreciated the all-women’s environment that allowed her to focus on her education.
“When I was a student, you weren’t allowed to take an overnight trip until after Thanksgiving. It was awesome because you had to establish friendships,” said Chris Brown. “I still have some of those friendships today.”
Brown’s daughter, Lisa Brown De Armas, ’03, was the third generation of Speight’s family to attend Meredith. An international business major with a concentration in Spanish, De Armas built on her early love of languages through two study abroad opportunities. After a six-week trip to Spain, she knew it wasn’t enough and departed four weeks later to Santiago, Chile, where she spent a semester. Today, De Armas and her husband own and run El Informador, a Spanish language publication in the Charleston, S.C. area.
The Mary Estes Speight Endowment will fund “opportunity” scholarships for upper-level students who are on a clear path to graduation, but have exhausted their financial ability to stay at Meredith.
“We’re a very close family,” said Brown, reflecting on the gift. “And we were raised with the belief that it’s important to help other people.”