The Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation has supported students in need at Meredith College for 47 years. The first grant received from the Foundation was $10,000 in 1974, and this year the College received $250,000. The growth of the grant shows the confidence that the Foundation has in the education Meredith is providing students. Through the years, the Foundation has given more than $3.6 million dollars to Meredith College.
The Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation was started by Whitehead’s youngest son, Conkey Pate Whitehead, to pay tribute to his mother. The Foundation supports 200 colleges, universities, and secondary schools in the Southeast and serves 12,000 young women each year who have financial need. In addition, the Foundation also supports elderly women at 16 senior care facilities in Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia. In total, more than $821 million in grants have been awarded since the Foundation began making grants in 1954.
Lettie Pate Whitehead was a woman ahead of her time, making her own path forward after her husband, Joseph B. Whitehead, one of the original bottlers of Coca-Cola, passed away at an early age. She guided both the bottling business and the family’s real estate interests with great success and became one of the first female directors of any major U.S. corporation when she was asked to serve on the board of The Coca-Cola Company in 1934.
Education was important to Whitehead throughout her life and she expressed that by giving generously to many colleges and secondary schools during her lifetime.
Carrie Davis Conway, senior program officer for the Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation, visited Meredith in 2018 and was able to meet 10 scholarship recipients whom the Foundation supported.
“It was a wonderful visit. The students were so enthusiastic about their Meredith experience, and the support of their faculty. They expressed deep appreciation for the scholarship funding,” said Conway.
One of the students on the visit that day was Kayla Depietro, ʼ21. “I loved being able to tell them about all I had accomplished and all I plan to accomplish. It’s great to be able to show people who have invested in your personal growth that you have not let it go to waste, and have done all that you can to make sure of that. It really puts things into perspective as well. The money given was not just a statement on a piece of paper, it was people who chose to invest in me and I am eternally grateful for that.”
Conway says she loves to hear from students. “We receive about 2,500 thank you letters each year and read every one. It is so meaningful to hear how much the scholarship means to each scholarship recipient. Many of these students are the first in their family to attend college, and they are hungry for an education. Their resilience and determination in overcoming obstacles always inspires us. The heart of our program is serving students in need.”
Conway is also impressed with the leadership at Meredith and the strong pathways with other schools such as Campbell Law School and the dual engineering degree with N.C. State.
Lyons Gray, a native of Winston-Salem, also joined Conway on the visit to Meredith. Gray is the North Carolina Trustee to the Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation, which also includes trustees from Virginia and Georgia. Gray joined the board in 1972 and was instrumental in adding Meredith College to the scholarship program. Gray has had a long and distinguished career as a six-term member of the North Carolina House of Representatives, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Revenue, Senior Advisor to the President of the University of North Carolina System, and Chief Financial Officer of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He currently serves on the North Carolina Utilities Commission. A lifelong resident of North Carolina, he is pleased that Meredith has received grants from the Foundation for so many years.
“In 1972 when we added significant funding to the Foundation, from the estate of Conkey and his wife, we were able to include Meredith College among the institutions receiving grants,” said Gray. “To see after all these years the good work Meredith continues to do and the education they provide to women is important. As a Trustee, I am pleased that we were able to maintain our level of giving in 2020-21 and support students that need the funding.”
It is evident in the thank you letters Conway receives that Lettie Pate Whitehead scholarship students appreciate their education and are willing to give back when it is their turn.
“Students often share in their letters that they want to inspire younger siblings and lift up their communities. Many want to establish scholarships of their own one day. They are creating a remarkable ripple effect,” said Conway. “In their testimonials, many students reflect on the ways in which Mrs. Whitehead’s story speaks to them. They are moved by her resilience, her generosity of spirit, her commitment to giving back and her desire to serve her community.”