‘Million’ reasons to smile

Published 11:16 am Sunday, June 1, 2014

Ridgecroft School Headmaster Chris Aycock and Director of Development Lindsay Vaughan have announced the generous gift left to the school by the late William Julian Robertson Jr. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

Ridgecroft School Headmaster Chris Aycock and Director of Development Lindsay Vaughan have announced the generous gift left to the school by the late William Julian Robertson Jr. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

AHOSKIE – In life, local businessman William Julian Robertson Jr. was a leading proponent of elementary and high school education.

In death, that passion still burns bright.

Upon his passing on Jan. 24, Robertson’s will directed more than $1 million be placed in a donor advised fund at the North Carolina Community Foundation for the benefit of Ridgecroft School. The now late owner of Boyette & Robertson Insurance Agency in Ahoskie further indicated in his will that the fund is in memory of his late son, David Marshall Robertson, a 1980 Ridgecroft graduate, who died in 2008.

William Julian Robertson Jr. never retired, working until the age of 86. He died on Jan. 24. File Photo

William Julian Robertson Jr. never retired, working until the age of 86. He died on Jan. 24. File Photo

As the benefactor, Ridgecroft School can use up to five percent each year of the whole amount of the fund.

“What we will do is make suggestions of how that money will be spent,” said Ridgecroft Headmaster Chris Aycock. “Mr. Robertson designated Walt (Pierce, Robertson’s business partner who joined the insurance firm several years ago) as the donor advisor. We will work with Walt on how these funds will be used.

“The way this particular endowment works is it can be used to do things that we normally wouldn’t have been able to do before…projects that we can now take on each year. It will allow us to improve and enhance what we have for a long time to come,” Aycock added.

Aycock noted that funds under the direction of the North Carolina Community Foundation typically grow at more than a five percent rate each year.

“That means this endowment will continue to grow; Mr. Robertson’s nest egg will continue to grow in value,” he said.

Pierce explained the concept of the North Carolina Community Foundation, founded by the Holding family who owns controlling interests in First Citizens Bank and Southern Bank.

“They did this with the ultimate goal of allowing the donors to direct the use of these endowments exactly the way they wanted and have others donate and add to the endowment,” Pierce said. “The Community Foundation is set-up to handle these types of endowed funds.”

Aycock said a committee will be formed to come up with ideas of how the money can be used to benefit the school.

“The money will be there in perpetuity, it will continue to help Ridgecroft long after I’m gone from here,” Aycock stressed. “These types of donations do not come around very often.”

Both Aycock and Pierce talked about the giant shoes Robertson left to fill.

“What a great businessman,” Pierce said of his former boss. “He started out working in the business office, doing the books at Charles H. Jenkins & Company. At the age of 33 he shifted his career focus as Mr. (Dan P.) Boyette took him under his wing and taught him the ropes of the insurance business. That was in 1962.”

Even after Boyette died, Robertson continued to honor his business partner by keeping the company’s name intact.

“There are very few individuals that I know of who helped people like Julian did,” Pierce said. “He gave away a lot of money to different people and organizations. In the case of this generous gift to Ridgecroft, Julian knew deep down that this school was doing a great job in educating students and preparing these young people to become the next generation of leaders. He knew that Ridgecroft would use this money wisely to continue with their job of educating our young people. A gift of this magnitude will hopefully encourage others to step up to the plate in the name of education, whether it’s a gift to a public or private institution”.

Pierce also noted that of the gifts Julian Robertson left behind, all were in honor of his family members.

“Julian didn’t want the spotlight on him; he didn’t want the credit,” Pierce said. “The endowment here at Ridgecroft is in David’s honor; there’s Dorothy F. Robertson Scholarship at Chowan (University) named in honor of his wife; and your newspaper announced in March of the $50,000 bequeathed by Julian to the Ahoskie Public Library in honor of his sister (Florence Robertson Reid).”

As far as his personal relationship with Mr. Robertson, Pierce shared a story of advice given to him by his late grandfather.

“He told me that if you go into business with somebody, then do it with someone about your same age and about the same financial capacity,” he stated. “I didn’t follow my grandfather’s advice very well. Julian and I were exact opposites. But Julian stood behind me all the way. He gave me a tremendous opportunity, and for that I’m eternally grateful.”

Aycock has experience in the area of educational development and fundraising at other schools prior to coming to Ridgecroft.

“I’m very familiar with independent schools in North Carolina and Virginia and this gift to Ridgecroft is one of the largest I’ve seen in my career,” Aycock stated. “What Julian Robertson has done for Ridgecroft will ensure that we will continue to operate at a high level. We are fortunate to have other families to believe in the direction this school has taken in the past and continues to take towards the future. Combined, the funds left by Mr. Robertson and those from other families will allow us to continue our vision to be a catalyst for higher education here in the Roanoke-Chowan area, just as it has been for the past 44 years.”

Aycock is just completing his second year as Ridgecroft’s Headmaster. With that in mind, he stated he arrived locally during Robertson’s latter stages of life.

“I hate that I wasn’t around to get to know him better,” Aycock stressed. “But listening to others speak about Julian Robertson, he sounds like a man who had a big heart to help others as much as he could. What he has done for Ridgecroft is amazing. What a generous gift. His name will be a part of this campus forever and we will make sure people understand what he did and how he has helped Ridgecroft.”

There are plans already in place by Ridgecroft officials to honor Robertson and the other families that have benefitted the school. A plaque will be erected near the school’s main entrance bearing the names of these generous benefactors.

“We are so grateful for the generosity of Mr. Robertson and others who believe in the direction this school is taking,” said Lindsay Vaughan, Ridgecroft’s Director of Development. “This school means a lot to me and to others as well. Gifts such as the one left by Mr. Robertson means we can continue with our work here to educate the children of our local area.”

A native of Bertie County, Robertson was a mainstay in Ahoskie for decades. He was dedicated to his church, First Baptist of Ahoskie, and served faithfully with the NC Baptist Children’s Home and Chowan University. He has served on the Ahoskie Town Council as well as past president of both the Ahoskie Kiwanis Club and Ahoskie Chamber of Commerce.


About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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