AFTER GRADUATING from Furman in 1954 and serving in the army, John Cothran returned to his Greenville home searching for a calling.
“I had visited the new campus numerous times on return trips while stationed at Fort Knox and would pass through the front gates to see the progress,” he says. “One day my father [a 1922 graduate] invited me to tag along to see the cornerstone placed for the library. He pointed at a man across the crowd, E. Roy Stone, and said, ‘Mr. Stone is a prominent Greenville real estate man. Let me introduce you; you may want to go into the real estate business.’ ”
Cothran soon did join Stone in the real estate profession. He opened his own company in 1962, and would go on to run many other real estate firms in a career that would span more than five decades.
Perhaps it is this memory of finding his own calling that inspired Cothran, a longtime Furman trustee, and his wife, Jeanette, to pledge a major gift that, when added to gifts from others, will ensure a $3 million endowment for the Center for Vocational Reflection. “Jeanette and I always wanted to invest in people. It’s one investment that never goes down in value,” he says.
Established as the Lilly Center in 2001 through a grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc., the center is now named for the Cothrans. Its aim is to provide resources for individuals and groups to reflect upon their vocational choices through thoughtful, open dialogue while seeking to stimulate and inform social action. “The college years are critically formative in the lives of students,” the Cothrans said in a statement. “Providing them with the environment and tools to enable them to critically and fully examine key life questions is as important, if not more so, than any academic course they might pursue.”
The center also sponsors service-learning projects for students and alumni, and more than 100 faculty members have benefited from a series of yearlong seminars in which they explore topics that help them better discern their vocations as teachers and scholars. Through the center’s Tom & Becky Hood Becherer Alumni Programs, alumni participate in “pilgrimages” around the world, or return to campus for a weekend of reflection with current and former faculty on the topic “What’s Calling You Now?”
Spanish professor David Bost, administrative director of the Cothran Center, says, “We hope to expand the footprint of the center, letting it permeate through other programs and the curriculum. We hope ‘Who am I?’, ‘What do I believe?’ and ‘What does the world need from me?’ will become common themes throughout the university.”
The Cothrans are members of Furman’s Heritage Society and were founding members of the Partners Scholarship Program. Two of their four sons are Furman graduates.
Learn more at furmanlilly.com.