The true meaning of grace

Grace Crim Rollins

Grace Crum Rollins (left) breaks ground in 1993 on the school’s first building, named in her honor. Above right: Born in rural Tennessee, Mrs. Rollins was grounded in family, faith, and hard work. Bottom right: Mrs. Rollins and her sons, Randall (left) and Gary, shared Wayne Rollins’ commitment to improving health.

Grace Crum Rollins believed in better health for all

She was quiet and small in stature but firm in her beliefs. Grace Crum Rollins made good on her late husband's interest in helping construct a building to house Emory's School of Public Health. In 1994, the Grace Crum Rollins Building became the permanent home for the school that Emory named for her extraordinary family.

Mrs. Rollins, whose generosity led the Rollins School of Public Health to become one of the nation's premier schools in its field, died on August 8 at age 98.

"Essentially, the school would not be what it is today without her family," says RSPH Dean James Curran. "Our faculty, students, and alumni are part of her legacy."

That legacy began when Grace Crum married O. Wayne Rollins during the Depression. Both grew up in rural communities and shared values steeped in family, faith, and hard work. They lived simply and never bought anything on credit. When Wayne was hospitalized for an appendectomy, Grace knitted to pay his bill.

Success came in the 1940s, when Wayne built his first radio station in Virginia, one of many that he and his brother John would own. Years later, Forbes magazine would count Wayne among the nation's greatest business leaders. In what is considered one of the first leveraged buyouts, Wayne bought Orkin Exterminating in 1964. The family business grew to encompass oil and gas services, security systems, and real estate.

Also in 1964, Wayne and Grace moved to Atlanta with their sons Randall and Gary. The couple became involved at Emory through the Candler School of Theology and Wayne's role as a university trustee.

With a lead gift to the School of Medicine, they enabled construction of the O. Wayne Rollins Research Center, doubling Emory’s laboratory space. Upon learning that the school of public health needed a building, Wayne voiced his support for a new facility but died unexpectedly in 1991. Less than a year after his death, Grace and her sons fulfilled his interest by contributing $10 million for construction.

Other gifts followed. The family funded the O. Wayne and Grace Crum Rollins Endowment for faculty development and the Center for Public Health Preparedness and Research. In 2007, the family provided a $50 million lead gift from the O. Wayne Rollins Foundation and Mrs. Rollins for a second RSPH building to be connected to the Grace Crum Rollins Building by a glass corridor. The Claudia Nance Rollins Building, named for Wayne's mother, will open in 2010 and more than double the physical size of the school.

While Mrs. Rollins' husband was one of the nation’s most successful businessmen, she preferred family life, gardening, and painting to the spotlight. Her family was her greatest joy—sons Randall and Gary (Emory trustee emeritus and trustee, respectively), 10 grandchildren (including her late granddaughter, for whom the school’s Rita Anne Rollins Room is named), and 24 great-grandchildren.

In 1995, the year that Mrs. Rollins turned 85, she attended the dedication of the school's first building and received an honorary degree from Emory. Later that year, she met James Curran, who had become dean. When they toured the building together, she pointed out the plantings. "She told me they could be improved with a little hard work," recalls Curran. For her 90th birthday in 2000, the school dedicated the Grace Crum Rollins Garden, now a shady spot for students and faculty.

The idea of creating a public health building in 1990 appealed to Wayne Rollins’ entrepreneurial spirit. With just 20 faculty and 300 graduates, it was a risky endeavor. "Mrs. Rollins shared his commitment," Curran says. "Today the school has more than 180 faculty and 5,000 alumni in 90 countries."

"Each morning, when I go to my office, I pass by a portrait of Mrs. Rollins,” he adds. “It reminds me of the importance of hard work, family loyalty, strong values, and the true meaning of grace and generosity."
—Pam Auchmutey

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