Margaret May Franklin House

Early Adopters

Margaret May Franklin was about to marry a “younger man.” However, she and her soon-to-be-husband, Stu, were both way ahead of their time in their mutual philosophy of philanthropy.
Margaret May Franklin was about to marry a “younger man.” However, she and her soon-to-be-husband, Stu, were both way ahead of their time in their mutual philosophy of philanthropy.

One interesting aspect of higher education philanthropy lore is that married couples historically tended to give more to the husband’s alma mater than the wife’s. It has been said that the couple may donate a set of encyclopedias in the wife’s honor to the library at the school she attended, then donate millions of dollars to build the library at the husband’s big, honking institution right down the road.

Although that pattern is changing, it definitely was the order of the day four decades ago. Except in a modest home in Roanoke, Virginia.

Roanoke native Margaret May Franklin, WC ’41, had been a speech and art major at Brenau, president of both her junior and senior classes, and a member of Phi Mu sorority. She once described her time at Brenau College as a “collage of happy memories.” She possessed a warm, outgoing personality and a great sense of humor. A close friend remembers that “She dearly loved telling jokes. She just was not very good at it, which made them that much funnier.”

After she returned to Roanoke, she married a “younger man,” J. Stuart Franklin, who completed his undergraduate studies almost a decade later than she did – a fact that Stu constantly brought to her attention. Although he was only seven months younger, Stu served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during World War II before he finished college. Discharged in 1946, he enrolled in that big honking school up the road, Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg. He got his undergraduate degree in civil engineering in 1950, then began working his way up to senior partner in a Roanoke architectural firm that specialized in building retirement homes and health care facilities in the retiree-rich Shenandoah Valley.

Margaret worked for Piedmont Airlines, retiring after USAir acquired that company. She enjoyed the home she and Stu occupied since early in their marriage. She loved working in the garden, tending various flowering species she collected.

However, the couple had no children and few close relatives. Several decades ago, when they planned their estates, they decided to support institutions that could do some good in the world. As Margaret once said, “Giving should not be for the accolades but from the heart.”

There was little doubt that Hokie Stu would tint his bequest with the maroon and burnt orange of his alma mater. However, unlike many similarly situated couples of the Greatest Generation, who often dedicated most giving to the husband’s institution, the Franklins split the higher education portion of the estate right down the middle – half to Virginia Tech and half to Margaret’s old school. When Margaret died in 2015 at age 95, her bequest – in addition to decades of unwavering annual donations – totaled $450,000 for the Margaret May Franklin Endowed Scholarship fund at Brenau.

“That equal allocation is important to note,” says Vice President for External Relations Matt Thomas, who oversees all fundraising activities for Brenau. “The Franklins were very much ahead of their time.”

Beneficiary institutions usually do not realize the proceeds from such planned giving scenarios until after the death of both spouses. Allocations technically could be changed by a surviving spouse, like any provision of a will.

Virginia Tech’s engineering school honored Stu’s support with a posthumous induction into its Academy of Engineering Excellence five years after his death. Alongside the seven living
inductees, Margaret attended the ceremony on behalf of her husband.

Over the years, continuing after Stu died, a number of Brenau fundraising officers and executives visited periodically with Margaret. As one recalls, those visits often coincided “just before or just after a visit by someone from Virginia Tech.”

Although she and Stu had solidified their estate plans decades earlier, Margaret – well into her 80s, began showing signs of Alzheimer’s. Brenau decided to go ahead and do something to show its appreciation while she was still lucid and alive. So, in 2008 Brenau named the small theater arts building in Gainesville, shown in the photograph at the top of this article, in Margaret’s honor.

When a Brenau executive delivered a framed photo of the building that clearly displayed the sign in front that bears her name, he said she seemed genuinely moved as she sat silently looking at the photo. However, her attention turned immediately to where to put it. “She wanted it someplace where, the next time they visited, those guys from Virginia Tech could not avoid seeing it.”

– David Morrison


For information about planned giving to the ForeverGold campaign, call Ben McDade at 770.534.6173 or email

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