RALEIGH, N.C. — Three private North Carolina universities will share $140 million bequeathed by a Charlotte attorney and business investor, the schools said Monday.
The money left by Porter Byrum are for scholarships for students to attend Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, Queens University of Charlotte and Wingate University. With this final gift, the Wake Forest alum who died this year at age 96 provided the three institutions more than $235 million in all, they said.
Wake Forest will receive about half the final bequest, with Queens and Wingate each receiving more than $35 million. The gift announced Monday is one of the 100 largest in the world from a private donor to higher education, according to a list maintained by The Chronicle of Higher Education, a trade newspaper.
Byrum and three brothers, sons of a Southern Baptist preacher from eastern North Carolina, all attended Wake Forest tuition-free. Byrum graduated from the school, which was then located in a Raleigh suburb and affiliated with the North Carolina Baptist State Convention, with undergraduate and law degrees in 1942 before he enlisted in the U.S. Army and fought in World War II.
Settling in Charlotte after the war, he opened a law practice that billed not by the hours attorneys worked, but by how much help Byrum thought he had delivered to his clients. Byrum channeled these earnings into real estate and an aircraft parts-maker, among other investments, and then decided to pay forward the help he received.
He chose to help Queens University because it was located near a shopping center he owned, and Wingate University on the recommendation of a friend and Baptist minister, spokeswomen for the two schools said.
All three universities established scholarship funds to help students afford higher education.
Ryan Beaver won one of the merit-based scholarships created with Byrum’s money, which paid for his Wake Forest law degree. Beaver said he came to know Byrum, and he always gave the same explanation for his generosity: “I’m doing this to help give others the opportunity to experience the education that I did, and hopefully have the benefits of it that I’ve had.”
“The source of his wealth was very much real estate and business investments,” Beaver said. “He was, as much as anyone could be, very self-made.”