Caroline Willis ’66 is deeply dedicated to those who mean the most to her, including her Bryn Mawr family.
Her volunteer history is breathtaking: class president and editor; trustee; president of the Alumnae Association and member of its Executive Board; committee member for the Hepburn Medal, McPherson Fund for Excellence, and the Alumnae Regional Scholars Program; member of the trustee’s Diversity Advisory Group and the Working Group for Gender Identity and Expression; longest serving volunteer at the Lantern Bookstore in D.C. (since 1984!) and, before that, a volunteer at the Bryn Mawr Bookstore in Cambridge for two years; and former District Counselor for the D.C. Region, which involved the organization of a three-day Alumnae Conference.
She is also a committed fundraiser, having served as class chair (several times over) and in key roles in many campaigns over the past few decades. Currently, she serves on the Campaign Steering Committee for Defy Expectation, The Campaign for Bryn Mawr.
So, it should not come as a surprise that Willis has been a consistent and generous donor to the College in the years since her graduation. But recently, she took it to a whole new level by making two very generous five-year pledges to Defy Expectation: $100,000 each to The Bryn Mawr Fund and The William H. Willis Scholarship Fund, which she established in 2004 in honor of her father, a highly distinguished classicist who was active in the Civil Rights Movement in both his home state of Mississippi and his adopted state of North Carolina.
“He was a true supporter of the Seven Sisters and encouraged me to apply to and attend Bryn Mawr,” says Willis. “In fact, he cashed out the entire college fund saved for me and my sisters just for my freshman year. I also received a scholarship from the College to cover the difference, but there was no guarantee I’d be back for my sophomore year.”
The goddess Eutykhiaes was with her the following year when Professor Willis accepted an offer from Duke University, including a full-tuition perk for his children.
Willis knows she was lucky; and that’s why she gives so generously to Bryn Mawr. She has been a staunch proponent of women’s colleges from a very young age: “My first experience with all girls’ education was in the ninth grade when I accompanied my dad for a lecture at Mississippi State College for Women. I was so impressed by the level of seriousness among the women for learning. It ‘planted a seed’ for me.”
Over the next few years, Willis attended an all girls’ leadership training program at another local women’s college, and also spent her senior year at a girls’ day school in Oxford, England. She flourished: “I saw that things get done when women study together.”
When it was time to apply for college, “here came Daddy with the Seven Sisters.” She applied to five of the seven plus a few “safety schools” but her first choice was Bryn Mawr. “Dad knew and admired a number of faculty members and so was very supportive of the decision.”
She appreciates her father for rolling the dice: “He threw all his money at it, not knowing if I’d get more than one year. But he felt that even one year at Bryn Mawr would be worth it.”
So, Willis is doing the same for the next generation. “I give to Bryn Mawr for all that he stood for in terms of educational opportunity. All women’s colleges are empowering, but Bryn Mawr stands apart as the really serious one, the ‘scholarly sis.’ It’s what attracted me in the first place. And I’m proud of the work we’ve done to expand the diversity of the student body, and bring in first generation students. I want to help ensure that the opportunity is there for others.”