Porter Byrum, a retired attorney and real estate developer from Charlotte, N.C., known for his educational philanthropy, passed away on March 27, 2017. He was 96.
Byrum gave an initial gift in 2012 of $1 million to Meredith College in memory of his mother, Isa Ward Byrum, who attended Meredith College from 1906 to 1910. He loved Meredith College and honored his mother by establishing the Isa Ward Byrum Scholarship and Opportunity Fund to support financial assistance to Meredith students. In subsequent years, Byrum gave an additional $2.5 million dollars to the scholarship.
“He was an incredible man who lived a very full and purposeful life,” said President Jo Allen, ʼ80. “His gifts, which honor his mother and her alma mater, invest in today’s Meredith College students, and our faculty and staff are equally appreciative of his generosity.”
Byrum said in 2012 at a ceremony in the Johnson Hall Rotunda honoring his gift that his mother “believed in education and her dream was for all her sons to get an education. I hope this money will help other mothers’ dreams also come true.”
The son of a Baptist preacher, Byrum was one of five sons of the late John Thomas Byrum and Isa Ward Byrum. Byrum graduated from Wake Forest University in 1942 with a law degree.
After graduating, he joined the Army and was sent to Europe to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. He also helped liberate the Buchenwald concentration camp and later his service continued in Korea.
After returning to Charlotte in the early 1950s, he began practicing law along with real estate development including the Park Road Shopping Center in Charlotte in the late 60s. He managed this property for over 40 years.
Meredith has awarded 163 Isa Ward Byrum scholarships and many of the students receiving them would not have been able to attend Meredith College without the generosity of Byrum.
“Mr. Byrum’s generous gift saved me from having to leave Meredith at a time when I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish my education,” said Sierra Smith, ʼ18. “He gave me the opportunity to continue school and embrace everything that Meredith has to offer. If it were not for him honoring his mother, Isa Ward Byrum, my Meredith experience would not be what it is today.”
“Mr. Byrum has shown compassion towards students who want to pursue higher education at Meredith, and because of that I am very grateful to him for his contribution and being part of my support system,” said Jennifer Coples, ʼ16, at the scholarship dinner in October 2015.
Byrum received many letters from Meredith students thanking him for his generosity. Those letters meant a great deal to him and showed him the impact his gift was having on students. He also enjoyed visiting his scholarship students at Meredith and learning more about how they planned to use their degree.
“The Byrum Scholarship allowed me to pursue my dreams. I did not have to sacrifice anything for financial circumstances that were out of my control,” said Raven Gregory, ʼ16.
“We have lost a dear friend to Meredith College, but through his gifts he has changed the lives of students following in his mother’s footsteps at Meredith,” said President Allen. “Hundreds of our students honor his memory and are set to live better lives because he believed in Meredith College.”
Byrum’s love for his mother was evident in the way he spoke about her. He knew that education was important to his mother and that her Meredith education influenced her greatly.
In 2012 when the college celebrated the initial gift, Byrum said, “It is a great pleasure to be able to honor my mother and it is a wonderful feeling that in the future, long after I’m gone, some good person will get some help from the money we give now.”
Byrum was survived by nieces and nephews and their families and his longtime friend Grace Smith Thomas.