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Scholarship Honors Longtime Leader

Guest Retires After Helping Build UM Foundation

Sandra Guest (front row, center) is surrounded by members of the UM Foundation staff. They are (front row, from left) Christi Bland, Lee Ann Cooper, LaRhonda Harris, Guest, Caroline Heuer, Maggie Abernathy and Teresa Williams. On the second row (from left) are Hesham Baeshen, Evan Greene, Tiffeny Owens, Abigail Robbins and Donna Patton. Back row (from left) are Lance Felker, Anna Langley, Ron Guest, Bill Dabney and Wendell Weakley.

Suzan Thames and Sandra Guest

Almost every morning of her tenure as vice president of the University of Mississippi Foundation, Sandra Guest walked the grounds of the Brandt Memory House, picking up a stick here, tending a plant there, watering a fern or envisioning a new way to add beauty to her surroundings.

Her dedication to the UM Foundation was evident in the way she cared for its home. As meticulous as she was about its landscape, Guest – in her 42-year career – was equally thorough in building resources for her beloved Ole Miss. It was her way of giving back to the institution that enabled her to earn a college degree.

An active participant on every academic capital campaign in Ole Miss history, Guest witnessed the university endowment grow from $2 million to more than $723 million. She was the university’s first female director of development and the first female officer of the UM Foundation. For 20 years – first as secretary/treasurer and the last 13 years as vice president/secretary – Guest helped lead the foundation while also serving on the Joint Committee on University Investments.

Additionally, as a founding member of the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy (OMWC), Guest was integral to the organization as it secured $15.5 million in endowed scholarship funds.

To pay tribute to her contributions and honor her recent retirement, UM Foundation board members, other alumni, colleagues and friends gave $156,000 to create the new Sandra McGuire Guest Council Scholarship.

“I’m a first-generation college graduate, and the only way I was able to complete my degree at Ole Miss was with scholarship support. I worked full-time early in the foundation’s formation while taking classes part-time. Knowing this scholarship will assist deserving students at my beloved Ole Miss in perpetuity makes it a perfect gift,” said Guest, an alumna of the UM College of Liberal Arts and native of McComb, Mississippi.

“Having an OMWC scholarship named for me is absolutely the highest honor imaginable. I am humbled and grateful for the outpouring of love and support from so many members of my Ole Miss family.”

Don Frugé of Oxford, Mississippi, former foundation president and CEO, said Guest was the first person he met in 1984 when then-Chancellor Gerald Turner asked him and Robert Khayat (now Chancellor Emeritus) to oversee the inaugural campaign.

“The foundation had approximately 2,000 donors a year who gave $2 million in annual gifts. The total university endowment was just over $8 million. UMF had about $500 in unrestricted cash.

“The foundation staff no longer has to answer the question: Why should I give privately to support a public university? Every donor knows their gift is important in making Ole Miss better for our students, faculty and staff and the UM Foundation is trusted to spend those gifted dollars as intended and wisely,” Frugé said.

“Sandra Guest is largely responsible for the UM Foundation earning this respect and trust. She cares deeply about the university and its foundation. She only knows one way to do everything: the right way. She is a continual learner and always sought to improve herself and the foundation whenever possible.”

Khayat gave Guest credit for taking care of the foundation through times of both progress and challenge.

“I have long believed that the seeds planted under Gerald Turner’s years blossomed and grew under Sandra’s steady, kind and thoughtful guidance. While serving as chancellor, I knew Don and Sandra were taking care of the foundation’s business and were making immeasurable contributions to the well-being of the university.

“Sandra made it possible for me to do the work of the chancellor’s office and avoid being distracted by internal issues. She was able to work with donors of different ages, levels of wealth and personal interests.”

Suzan Thames of Jackson, Mississippi, chair of the UM Foundation Board of Directors, said she and Guest bonded over their deep commitment to the university.

“Sandra has always been motivated by doing the very best for our university. She has used her positive, enthusiastic attitude to encourage all those around her to pursue their goals, and she is right there willing to help with achieving those goals in any way.

“Sandra is an extraordinary member of the Ole Miss family,” Thames continued. “She has a place in the hearts of all who know her.”

Thames and Wendell Weakley, current foundation president and CEO, orchestrated the scholarship plans to honor Guest and spoke of her new consulting role in the foundation’s communications initiatives.

“For over four decades, Sandra has provided outstanding service to our foundation and to the Ole Miss family. She has exemplified the high standard we strive for in donor service and university private support. We will miss her day-to-day leadership but look forward to working with her in our ongoing efforts to maintain excellence in our communications field.”

Attorney Jamie Houston of Jackson – former chair of the UM Foundation Board of Directors who worked with Guest for years – said she always demonstrated a desire to support the university’s missions and activities.

“During her long tenure at the foundation, Sandra developed an in-depth knowledge of its internal and external workings as it has grown from its relatively modest beginnings to the impactful organization it is today. She has been a tireless advocate and diplomat for the foundation.

“She has not only developed strong relationships with donors, alumni, friends and the university, but she also has maintained and grown them in a positive manner, enhancing the reliability of the foundation as a funding source for the university. She has performed all these tasks with the highest integrity and with a kind and gentle spirit.”

The UM Foundation originally operated out of 10 converted motel rooms in the Alumni House, until donor and alumni leader Louis Brandt of Houston, Texas, and of Oxford gifted the Memory House property at the east edge of campus. Now, the complex serves the foundation and development offices as well as many university groups that use the interior and exterior spaces for meetings and receptions.

 “I remember Sandra as the one who educated me on what I needed to do as a foundation board member and later as board chairman,” said Brandt. “When the foundation and development offices moved into their first independent location on University Avenue, a caretaker of the building and grounds was needed. Sandra volunteered to take that job in addition to her ‘day job’ as foundation vice president.

“She is truly the ‘keeper of the springs’ at the Brandt Memory House, maintaining and adding to its great beauty each year. We are all extremely grateful for Sandra’s commitment to excellence in everything she has done for Ole Miss and the foundation.”

Guest expressed appreciation for mentors, colleagues and friends she enjoyed along her journey, adding that she is “especially grateful for the exceptional teamwork, collaborations and donor generosity that made the foundation’s growth and achievements possible.”

“I am humbled and grateful for the last 42 years. This university changed my life and the lives of my husband, Ron; my children, Brandy, Claire and Sam; and my son-in-law Jody Lowe. Furthering the mission of this university will always be a top priority, and I hope to continue to pay it forward with the next generation.

“Like many, I was at the crossroads when I came to Ole Miss. It was here that I was given the opportunity to receive a quality education and an unbelievable career path and lived what has felt like the impossible dream,” Guest said.

To make a gift to the Sandra McGuire Guest Council Scholarship, mail a check to the University of Mississippi, with the endowment’s name written in the memo line, to 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655. For more information, contact Wendell Weakley at [email protected] or 662-915-5944.

By Tina H. Hahn