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By Angela Harwood, Monday, June 3rd, 2024

Van Weatherspoon
Van Weatherspoon (Photo submitted by family)

In a heartfelt tribute to their late father, Van Weatherspoon ’54, sisters Laura Shwedo ’80 and Martha Johansson pledged over $1 million to the Carolina Covenant at UNC-Chapel Hill. This generous gift establishes the Van Weatherspoon Carolina Covenant Endowed Scholarship, with a preference for supporting first-generation college students from Durham County, North Carolina. Their gift honors their father’s legacy and aligns with the family’s longstanding tradition of supporting education and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Van Weatherspoon’s Legacy at Carolina

Born and raised in Durham, North Carolina, Van Weatherspoon attended Durham High School, where his performance on the football field earned him scholarship offers from several universities. His future father-in-law, Knox Massey, steered him toward UNC-Chapel Hill.

Weatherspoon was the first in his family to attend college. His time at Carolina helped lay the foundation for his future success and fostered a deep-seated loyalty to the University. Jack Evans, former dean of the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School and a friend of the Weatherspoons, highlighted the family’s comprehensive philanthropic contributions across the University, including the business school, health sciences, athletics and the College of Arts and Sciences.

“In my mind, the Weatherspoon family epitomizes the spirit of Carolina,” Evans remarked. “Van and Kay’s generosity and commitment to helping the University have left an indelible mark on the campus.”

A Family’s Tradition of Giving

The Weatherspoon family’s connection to UNC-Chapel Hill extends beyond Van. His wife, Kay Massey Weatherspoon, also played a significant role in their philanthropic endeavors. The couple supported numerous initiatives, including the establishment of the Weatherspoon Awards and Lectures at the Kenan-Flagler Business School, which recognize outstanding contributions by faculty and staff.

The family’s generosity was further demonstrated following the tragic loss of Van and Kay’s son to a brain tumor at the age of 28. This galvanized their support for brain tumor research, leading to the creation of multiple professorships and research funds at UNC Health. 

“The Weatherspoon family’s contributions have exceeded $10 million over time, particularly advancing our brain tumor program,” said Leslie Nelson-Bernier, president of the UNC Health Foundation. “Their support has been instrumental in our progress.”

The Van Weatherspoon Carolina Covenant Endowed Scholarship

Inspired by their father’s legacy and the desire to give back to the community that shaped his life, Laura Shwedo and Martha Johansson’s gift to the Carolina Covenant aims to provide future generations the same opportunities their father had.

“Our father always believed in recognizing and giving back to the people and institutions that helped you along the way,” said Shwedo. “By establishing this scholarship within the Carolina Covenant, we hope to provide students from Durham County with the same opportunities that he had.”

“Dad’s life was transformed by his time at Carolina,” added Johansson. “Supporting students through the Carolina Covenant is our way of honoring his legacy and ensuring that his spirit of generosity lives on.”

Continuing a Legacy

The Weatherspoons’ legacy of giving continues through their daughters and the initiatives they support.

“The Weatherspoon family has always asked, ‘What can we do to help the University?’ Their approach has always been about making a meaningful impact,” concluded Evans. “This scholarship is another example of their thoughtful and generous contributions.”

“The family’s commitment to scholarships came at a perfect time as the University celebrates the Carolina Covenant’s 20th anniversary in 2024-25,” said Nick Khoury, director of development for scholarships and student aid. “I am thankful for their contribution to the University’s effort in providing a remarkable Carolina education to deserving first-generation students.”

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