The Patriot: Robert McPherson ‘Mac’ Burdette ’72, M ’74, M ’77

Mac Burdette

Mac Burdette at Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant

As the executive director of Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, Burdette is motivated by his passions for history and the military.

PATRIOTS POINT Naval and Maritime Museum is home to the USS Yorktown, known affectionately as the Fighting Lady. The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, decommissioned in 1970, earned 11 battle stars in the Pacific offensive of World War II and five more in the Vietnam War.

In 1968, the Yorktown recovered the Apollo 8 astronauts and their capsule in waters south of Hawaii. Now, moored in Charleston Harbor, the ship falls under the watch of Robert McPherson “Mac” Burdette.

“It’s almost a feeling of destiny,” Burdette says. “This is where I was supposed to end up because I do have a passion for [the military]. Frankly, everybody who works here does. No doubt Clemson prepared me for what I do today.”

Burdette was a history major at Clemson when his studies were disrupted by the Vietnam War. He enlisted: “The wisest thing to do was enlist because you assumed you were going to be drafted. Enlisting meant getting a commission, and that was the smartest move.”

After serving in active duty as a second lieutenant in the Army, Burdette entered the Army Reserve, where he achieved the rank of colonel after 30 years of service, including a year in the Persian Gulf War.

Outside of the Army Reserve, Burdette spent much of his career as the city manager for Mount Pleasant, helping it grow and develop for almost three decades. In 2010, he was considering retirement when the executive director opportunity at Patriots Point came into view. Burdette couldn’t resist.

Along with the USS Yorktown, Patriots Point hosts the USS Laffey, a destroyer, and the USS Clamagore, a submarine, as well as a Vietnam War exhibit and a Medal of Honor museum. Each year, the museum sees more than 300,000 visitors and hosts 24,000 overnight campers. The site also has an economic impact of more than $29 million on the area, according to a 2014 College of Charleston study.

Burdette’s goal for the museum is to help younger generations of Americans understand the sacrifice and courage of veterans. “I like to think we’re a lot more than a museum,” he says. “It’s more about gaining perspective on what war is all about. As difficult as it is, there are times when men and women are called to preserve the values we hold dear as Americans.”

Wyche named deputy director of Johnson Space Center

Vanessa Ellerbe Wyche ’85, M ’87 remembers studying hard at Clemson and the way campus leaders mentored her, especially when one chemistry professor encouraged her to trust herself when she was struggling: “I remember telling him that I wasn’t quite understanding something. He told me that I just needed to step back, take a break, and it was going to come to me. And it did.”

Vanessa Wyche

Vanessa Wyche visited Clemson University in February to help PEER & WISE celebrate its 30th anniversary.

Now, after a career with NASA spanning nearly three decades, she’s leading the way as the deputy director of Johnson Space Center in Houston, becoming the first African-American to serve in the position when she started in August 2018. Working alongside director Mark Geyer, Wyche is responsible for 10,000 civil service and contract employees at Johnson Space Center and White Sands Test Facility in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

A Voice for the Community: Whitney Sullivan ’13

Whitney Sullivan

Whitney Sullivan at WLTX News 19’s headquarters

As an early-morning anchor, Sullivan has been nationally recognized for her dedication to viewers.

WHITNEY SULLIVAN begins her day as Columbia sleeps. She usually settles into her desk at WLTX News 19’s headquarters around 1 a.m. The office, a utilitarian mishmash of brick and steel on Garners Ferry Road, is never truly quiet.

In the digital age, news is not only constant but also constantly documented, and Sullivan knows this dynamic better than most. As an anchor in the 4:30 a.m. slot, she must pull double duty keeping her viewers informed and keeping them from crawling back into bed. But the early hour creates a bond.

“If you get up at 4:30, we’re family,” she says. “Those are my people, those who have to get their day started a little earlier than everyone else.”

Sullivan’s embrace of her viewers is an extension of her approach to journalism. In her role as an anchor, reporter and producer, she favors a community-focused approach acting as a mouthpiece for unsung local heroes and a watchdog for local concerns.

Sometimes that community-conscious approach means covering national news as well. Sullivan’s coverage of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, which was nominated for an Emmy, helped Columbia viewers empathize and express grief in the wake of unimaginable tragedy.

“I’m proud of that show because not only did we do that within hours of finding out about it, but I feel like we really presented the facts,” she says. “We worked toward healing. We really got to hear from everybody, about how they felt about that, in our community. Even though it happened in Orlando, there were people hurting in the Midlands from what happened miles and miles away. We were able to tap into that and give a voice to the people and let them express how they were feeling.”

The twin desires to inform and give voice to the local community animate Sullivan’s work.

“I get to be a voice for the people in the community that I love,” Sullivan says. “It’s something that I fall more in love with every day.”

Lindsays’ ‘Inspirational Generosity’ Supports College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences


For Ron ’80 and Jane ’80 Lindsay, giving back to the University, its students and the community is a large part of who they are.

The Lindsays mentor students through their church, opening their Lake Keowee home for student retreats. They are involved in providing financial-literacy counseling for people with long-term financial problems. Ron Lindsay supports the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences as a member and former chair of its advisory board. He was recognized for his service in 2016 when he received the college’s highest honor, induction into the Thomas Green Clemson Academy of Engineers and Scientists. He is also one of the original members of the Leadership Circle, a group of donors who provide unrestricted gifts to support student engagement, faculty advancement and academic opportunities that shape tomorrow’s leaders.

Their latest gift — $1 million to the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences to fund scholarships and professorships and to meet the college’s greatest needs — is built on that same spirit: “We’re giving money to the dean to have flexibility to do things he needs to do as needs arise,” Ron said.

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the college, said the Lindsays’ gift will have a deep impact on students and faculty for years to come: 

“Their generosity is inspirational, and they are wonderful ambassadors for Clemson University,” Gramopadhye said. “By giving so freely of their time and treasure, they are an integral part of the college’s success.”

Ron grew up in North Augusta, South Carolina, and Jane is from Mount Pleasant. They met at Clemson, and both graduated with bachelor’s degrees — his in chemical engineering and hers in economic biology.

Ron Lindsay took a job with Eastman in Kingsport, Tennessee, immediately after graduation and stayed with the chemical company for 36 years before retiring in 2016 as chief operating officer. “Eastman benefited tremendously from Clemson engineering students,” he said. “We hired quite a few, and they were always very well-equipped.”

After retirement, the Lindsays moved to their lake home about 30 minutes from campus. The move put them closer to their three grown children — Ryan, Elizabeth and Lauren — and their 2-year-old granddaughter, Blake.

Nate Matzko, a biochemistry and genetics major from Irmo, South Carolina, said he met the Lindsays through church and that they have been a great support system when college gets stressful. “I’m not surprised they’re making the donation,” he said. “They are two of the most loving, generous people I’ve been able to come across.”

The Lindsays’ return to the Upstate gives them a chance to get to know the students and professors they are helping.

“I’m thankful for the opportunity to give back,” Jane said, “and grateful that Clemson University brought Ron and me together when we were students.”

Phyfers Become Third Cornerstone Partner for Academics

Ben and Cheri Dunmore ’93, MBA ’99 Phyfer have given $2.5 million to support the College of Business and student scholarships. With this transformational gift, the Phyfers became the third Cornerstone Partner for Academics.

The Cornerstone program is made up of visionary individuals who commit funding of $2.5 million or more to help set the course for Clemson’s future as one of the nation’s top-ranked public universities. 

“This is a remarkable gift from a remarkable couple,” said Clemson President James P. Clements. “Cheri and Ben both have very successful careers in business, and their gift will help give Clemson students the education they need to start their own paths to success.”

THIS CORNERSTONE GIFT FOR ACADEMICS PROVIDE:  

  • $2 million for Phyfer Auditorium; it’s the largest gift to date for the new College of Business building.
  • $380,000 for the Phyfer Innovation Hub at Greenville ONE.
  • $120,000 for student scholarships.

“Clemson University is a significant part of our lives,” says Cheri Phyfer. “While we love Clemson football, academic success — particularly in the business school — is very important to us. We are excited to make this gift to help further the University’s business programs and impact the lives of students for years to come.”

The Phyfers have previously given to other initiatives including the Women’s Leadership Initiative, the College of Business Dean’s Excellence Fund, the WestZone project and several scholarships.

After graduating from Clemson, Cheri joined Sherwin-Williams, where she rose to become president and general manager of the consumer brands division. She joined Fortune Brands Global Plumbing Group as president of Moen U.S. in 2018. 

She was named to Clemson’s Board of Trustees in 2016 and is a former member of the Clemson University Foundation board and a past chair of the College of Business’ Trevillian Cabinet. 

Ben is a real estate investor/developer who has built properties in the Atlanta and Cleveland areas. He also serves on Clemson’s MBA executive board. The Phyfers live in the Cleveland area with their daughters, Allison and Danielle.

Scott Family Gift Will Help Recruit, Retain Top Students

Micky ’75 and Amy Scott know the vital role the forestry industry plays in South Carolina’s economic vitality and environmental health. 

The Scotts, with Micky’s brothers Bill and Hank, are fourth-generation owners of wholesale lumber and pole manufacturer Collum’s Lumber Products in Allendale, S.C. Collum’s was founded in the 1930s and has grown into one of the most advanced sawmill and planer operations in the Southeast. 

Now, the Scotts have given more than $1 million to the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences to create three endowments that will support the recruitment and retention of students in the college; provide enrichment opportunities to students in the forestry and environmental conservation department; and fund scholarships for students to participate in Forestry Summer Camp, a seven-week experiential learning curriculum to build skills essential to professional success in the forestry industry.

“That scholarship was one of the reasons I was able to stay in forestry.”

Dean Keith Belli said the Scotts’ gift will help the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences recruit and retain the best students and enhance the forestry curriculum with hands-on learning opportunities. Billy Fox, a veteran and junior forestry major from Wallkill, New York, is one of those students. Fox participated in the Forestry Summer Camp and said the experience honed his skills and opened his eyes to the array of careers in the forestry industry.

“I’m a hands-on learner, and I need to experience things for myself to learn them best,” Fox said. “I wouldn’t have been able to afford Forestry Summer Camp if it hadn’t been for scholarship money. That scholarship was one vof the reasons I was able to stay in forestry.” 

Micky Scott, whose bachelor’s degree is in forest management, is chair of Clemson’s Timberland Legacy Advisory Committee and a board member of the Wood Utilization + Design Institute.

An Unlikely Beginning for a Legacy

Marilyn Godbold’s life-changing gift began in an unlikely place — a meeting she attended as a guest.

Godbold’s affinity for Clemson began with her husband, Asa Godbold, who graduated from Clemson in 1969 with a degree in building construction. Asa Godbold was named to the Board of Visitors, and since spouses are routinely invited to the meetings, Marilyn attended every meeting with him. Though she had no prior connection to Clemson, she quickly fell in love with the University.

“Marilyn had never even set foot on campus until after we met,” Asa said. “She bought into everything Clemson and almost made me feel guilty over whether I was as involved as she was.”

At the final Board of Visitors meeting of Asa Godbold’s term, Marilyn sat in on a presentation about ClemsonLIFE and its goal of providing a postsecondary education to students with intellectual disabilities. On the way home, Marilyn immediately decided to change her will to make ClemsonLIFE a part of it.

“ClemsonLIFE resonated with everything she was as a person, and she wanted to make this program available to anyone who needed it,” said Asa.

Marilyn died in late 2017; her planned gift to ClemsonLIFE will provide grants and financial aid.

His wife’s generosity inspired Asa to continue giving himself by creating the Asa and Marilyn Godbold Clemson FIRST Grant-in-Aid, a scholarship for first-generation students.

“I have now given to Clemson for 49 consecutive years, and in one fell swoop, Marilyn gave more than I have ever given cumulatively,” he said. “I am hoping that between the two of us, we will keep Thomas Green Clemson’s will and vision alive forever.”

Rooks Honor Mentor and Friend

 

Ben Rook ’68, M ’74, the owner of Design Strategies in Greenville, has spent his career working on many different solutions to one question: “How can we make that happen?”

He and his wife, Becca, make things happen in many arenas: education, architecture, business and community-centered philanthropy. At Clemson, their latest gift of $100,000 will provide opportunities for architecture students by funding an endowment created in the name of mentor and friend George C. Means Jr.

Means established a health-focused studio in the School of Architecture at Clemson that has grown into today’s Architecture + Health graduate program. As the program celebrates its 50th anniversary, the Architecture + Health studio will officially carry the name of George C. Means Jr.

Ben said that when he first came to Clemson from Newberry, South Carolina, he had no idea what architecture really was. “I knew I liked making art, and I liked building treehouses,” he said, adding that Means had a gift for molding young people into “what they would be, even when they didn’t know what they could be.”

Ben graduated in 1968 and earned his master’s degree in 1974. In between degrees, he met his wife while working in Charlotte. After a long courtship, they married, with George Means as best man.

For a few years, Ben taught full time at Clemson and was an assistant campus planner. Becca educated younger students in Anderson and earned a master’s degree in education at Clemson. Ben’s career led them to Greenville, then to Charlotte and back to Greenville.

Ben wants people to remember that Means was a man with big ideas and an unparalleled devotion to students. Through the many lives he shaped over the years, Means’ influence traveled far beyond the studio that now bears his name.

The Rooks said they want their gift to the Means endowment to help keep Clemson a place where extraordinary teachers can deliver extra care and individual attention to each student. “That is what makes Clemson great,” Ben said.