Lessons Learned: Nash Children’s Philanthropy Instilled by Their Parents

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In the Nash family, Tech was a key element in two life lessons —the ability of education to change people’s lives and the responsibility to give back through volunteer work and philanthropy. Because of those lessons, the Institute now has a Harold R. and Mary Anne Nash Professor in Industrial and Systems Engineering.

 Pinar Keskinocak, co-director of the Center for Health and Humanitarian Logistics, associate director of research in the Health Systems Institute and professor in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering, became the first Nash professor in July. The professorship was created and funded in honor of Harold R., EE 52, and Mary Anne Nash by the three of their four children who are graduates of Tech: Ron Nash, IE 70, of Dallas, a partner in InterWest Partners; Mike Nash, IE 74, of Concord, N.C., president of Akabis; and Deborah Nash Harris, IE 78, retired senior vice president of Microsoft Corp. Keskinocak’s research focuses on supply chain management, with an emphasis on resource allocation, and she is actively engaged in research and applications in health care and humanitarian logistics. The Nash family said Keskinocak’s groundbreaking work in humanitarian logistics will benefit from these funds, and the victims of natural disasters will benefit as supplies and critical equipment are delivered quickly into disaster areas. “I’m excited about the work Pinar is doing. We got a lot of leverage from this donation because she’s working with a number of charitable organizations, particularly in humanitarian logistics. Her work is very valuable,” Deborah Nash Harris said. Harold Nash was a lifetime contributor to Roll Call, the Alumni Association’s annual fund, and a volunteer leader in a number of educational, civic and religious organizations.

 All three children have followed this model by consistently giving to Roll Call and to other Georgia Tech needs and requests, as well as by providing volunteer leadership to various organizations at the Institute. Ron Nash said he, his brother and his sister value the pride for Georgia Tech instilled in them by their parents. “But we also valued what Georgia Tech gave to them. Their story is not unique but still pretty incredible, and an important part was played by a Georgia Tech legend.” Harold Nash enrolled at Tech after World War II using the GI Bill to finance his education. He and Mary Anne married shortly before he began classes. “They had little money and could get no financial help from my grandparents. Mother was working during the day, and they had paper routes in the early morning and evening to generate additional money. They even qualified to live in subsidized government housing,” Ron said. “I was born the spring of my dad’s freshman year, and Dad switched to night classes so he could also work during the day,” he continued. “My grandparents pitched in by keeping me as my parents worked. By the time Dad got to be a junior, he had to attend his EE classes during the day with Mother continuing to work.” Mike was born during the spring of their father’s senior year. With two little ones, their mother was going to have to give up her job to care for them. Without his wife’s full-time income, Harold was going to have to drop out — with one quarter left to earn his degree. Harold went to the Dean of Students Office to withdraw from Tech. Dean George Griffin refused to sign the withdrawal papers.

 “Dean Griffin asked him how much money he needed to finish the quarter and get out,” Ron said. “And Dad told him he needed $1,000. Dean Griffin said, ‘I’m not going to sign this. You can come back tomorrow for me to sign it.’ Dad was upset that he had to come back a second day and did not understand why Dean Griffin would not sign the withdrawal form. “He came back the next day to get Dean Griffin’s signature. To his complete surprise, Dean Griffin handed him a check for $1,000. He’d gone to the Atlanta Rotary Club and gotten someone to put up a $1,000 loan for my father so he could finish his education at Georgia Tech,” Ron said. “Dad graduated, paid back the loan and in later years joined the Rotary Club and became president.” The siblings agreed that Dean Griffin helped change the path for the entire Nash family.

 “It took a family that never had a high school graduate up to consistently having college graduates in one generation,” Ron said. “That’s one of the reasons we wanted to honor our parents. That first Tech degree made a spectacular impact on our family and on multiple generations.”

 All three of the siblings have had children of their own graduate from Tech. Deborah’s son, Andrew Willingham, got a master’s in music technology in 2010. Ron’s son, David Nash, received two degrees in 2003, in mechanical engineering and international affairs. Mike is the father of two Tech alums, Jennifer Tench, Arch 02, and Michael Nash Jr., MS OR 05.

The fourth Nash sibling, Mary Alice, continued the family Tech tradition by marrying Arthur Ivey, CE 81, and having a son, Benjamin Ivey, who is a current Tech student majoring in chemical engineering.

 Talk of honoring their parents with a professorship began in the late 1990s, in the midst of Tech’s previous capital campaign. As with the latest campaign, Ron and Deborah served on the steering committee. “I was trying to figure out what to give,” Ron said. “I thought, ‘Deborah and Mike are also going to be contributing. What if we all got together? We could give something even more important.”

 Mike said their mother, now in her 80s, was “proud and very pleased” when she learned of the professorship and the woman appointed to the post. Harold Nash died in 1991. “But we know he would have been honored by his children doing this in his name,” Mike said.

 Much has changed at Georgia Tech since Harold Nash’s days on campus. “It has retained elements that are important — very rigorous academics, the need to be tough, to persevere,” Deborah said. “But I think the curriculum now includes more liberal arts content and more focus on communications and teamwork, which are so important to career success.” Ron said Tech is “still a stamina contest. That’s great for business. But it’s broader now. If you go back to our dad right after World War II, not only was it all male, it was much like a military college. That was the style.” Mike considered how things have changed since the 1970s. “I began classes with a slide rule. I ended with a $99 Bomar Brain, a four-function calculator,”

 He said. “The subject matter is not that different, but the way that the educational process takes place now with technology is so different.” Ron said, in addition to academics, he learned about people and leadership. “I don’t think I would have gotten as broad of a leadership background at other universities as I got here,” he said. “I think that’s been far more valuable in business. Three more calculus classes would have done nothing for my career.”

 This article first appeared in the January / February 2011 Issue of the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine.


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