Largest individual gift in Oxford’s history will have lasting impact

July 7, 2020

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Oxford College of Emory University will use the largest individual cash gift in its history to fund student financial aid through the Duane and Emy Blair Scholarship Endowment and for capital improvements to campus buildings and infrastructure.

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A newly received landmark donation will play a vital part in the student experience at Oxford College of Emory University and the preservation of its historic campus. The estates of Emy and Duane Blair 48Ox 50C 54M 58MR have given funds to Oxford College in the amount of $8.4 million, the largest individual cash gift in its history. 

“We are profoundly grateful for this transformational estate gift from the Blairs,” says Doug Hicks, dean of Oxford College. “Their extraordinary generosity, which they embodied throughout their lives, increases our capacity to offer student financial aid and supports the core of our educational mission. We will begin providing student scholarships in their name immediately.”

A native of Atlanta, Duane Blair grew up in nearby Clarkston, Georgia. He graduated from Oxford College in 1948 and received his undergraduate degree from Emory College in 1950.  After medical school and residency at Emory School of Medicine, Blair entered a long and distinguished practice as a surgeon in Decatur, Georgia. He served as chief of surgery and chief of staff at DeKalb Medical Center (now Emory Decatur Hospital), chaired the hospital’s board of directors as a trustee, and served as a member of the DeKalb County Board of Health. Blair died in 2015. 

Emy Blair, who died in 2017, was a graduate of Agnes Scott College and worked as a chemist before beginning a career as manager of Blair’s practice. Together the two were philanthropists for many causes and noted for their hospitality and wide interests.  A feature of their home in Stone Mountain, Georgia, is its beautiful gardens, boasting many fine botanical specimens, including Duane Blair’s award-winning roses. The Blair home and surrounding property served as a teaching laboratory for students of Eloise Carter, Oxford professor of biology, who often brought students to their grounds on field trips to study the plants there. 

Kevin Smyrl, Oxford associate dean of advancement and alumni engagement, remembers visits to the Blairs’ home fondly, beginning with the first in 2007. “I remember sitting in my suit on the front porch with Dr. Blair and having his dogs try to get in my lap. As a dog lover, I didn’t mind one bit, but when I left, Dr. Blair said, “The next time you come, don’t wear a suit.”

Smyrl adds, “The Blairs were generous to Oxford College and many other causes, but they were also very kind. In 2008 Dr. Blair gave me a rose bush to plant in my garden. It has thrived over the years, and right now it is bursting with dozens of vibrant red roses. I always think of the Blairs when I look at it. It is my wife’s favorite plant in our yard, but it is also symbolic of their spirit, which lives on at Oxford College.”

The Blairs’ niece Nan Evans Vogler describes them, “ Duane and Emy both believed strongly in education.  Duane truly believed his time at Emory at Oxford changed and directed his life.  Now through their generous gift his intent — which was always to help make a change, to help direct and educate the brilliant minds of the future — will become a reality.  In some ways their life was like a Picasso painting: intricate, unique, very colorful and loved by everyone.  Duane and Emy’s lives were a gift — well lived and an example to us all.”

Oxford will use half of the Blairs’ donation to fund student financial aid through the Duane and Emy Blair Scholarship Endowment, with the other half reserved for capital improvements to campus buildings and infrastructure.

“These funds come to Oxford at a time when it is acutely important to help students as much as possible in meeting their financial need,” Hicks says. “And as stewards of Emory’s original campus, we have a responsibility to maintain our beautiful, historic buildings while also keeping them current for 21st century learning and technology. This generous gift expands our ability to do both. The Blairs’ legacy and influence will continue at Oxford College for decades to come.”