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Careers Made, Lives Changed
Alumni Reflect on the Lasting Impact of the Reynolds Scholars Program

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The scholarship helped launch a 40-year career in orthopaedics for Richard Adams, MD ‘62, who practiced in Statesville, N.C., before retiring.
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Phil Ashburn, MD ‘74, with wife Ann, called the scholarship “a godsend for me”

Herbert Schiller, MD ’68, learned the news in a letter, which he keeps as a cherished possession.

Phil Ashburn, MD ’74, counts the day he heard the news as “one of the happiest days of my life.”

And Bill Eakins, MD ’70, found out during winter break as an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), where he was all alone.

“Everyone had gone home, and I was there studying when the call came for me that I had been accepted into medical school at Bowman Gray and would receive the Reynolds Scholarship,” says Eakins, now practicing internal medicine in Wilmington, N.C. “I was elated, and there was no one around to tell!”

They are among the more than 100 Reynolds Scholars Program alumni who clearly remember where they were and what they were doing when they received the life-changing news that they would attend one of the nation’s best medical schools at no cost to them.

A Completely Free Medical Education
Richard J. Reynolds Jr., then president of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, established the Reynolds Scholars Program in 1958 to attract the best-qualified students in North Carolina to Wake Forest’s School of Medicine.

The awards included tuition and a stipend for four years of medical school, and recipients made a non-binding pledge to stay in the state for five years after completing their training. Selection criteria included character, scholarship, potential as future physicians and financial need.

Through 1971, eight students in each entering class were selected by the school’s admissions committee and recommended to the Reynolds Foundation board to receive the awards. In all, there were 121 Reynolds Scholars (twins Bryan and Van Noah, both MD ’66, shared one award).

It was the medical school’s first significant scholarship program. Receiving the award meant a completely free medical education. It changed lives and careers, and not only those of its recipients.

‘A Gift at the Right Time’
For a number of recipients, the memories of their scholarship experience are intertwined with family.

While Ashburn pursued his undergraduate studies at UNC, his mother dealt with breast cancer.

“My respect and fondness for Wake Forest Baptist grew out of the care my mother received during her treatment,” he says, recalling the names of Drs. Alexander, Cooper, Maynard, Myers and Spurr, among others he credits for her care.

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Thirty-one alumni gathered for a dinner on March 20, marking the first reunion of former Reynolds Scholarship recipients.

That care was a financial strain on the Ashburn family, though. Ashburn knew that without significant scholarship assistance, he would have to stay at UNC, where, as a state-funded institution, medical school tuition was more affordable, rather than attend his first choice, Bowman Gray. He also would have to delay his marriage to his sweetheart, Ann, and face potentially significant debt before his medical career could even begin.

Al Holyfield, MD ’73, himself a Reynolds Scholar, delivered the news: Ashburn would be one of the recipients from the Class of ’74.

“My first reaction was ‘Ann and I can get married now!’” recalls Ashburn. Sadly, his mother died during his first year in medical school. Now retired, he lives in Raleigh. “The Reynolds Scholarship was a godsend for me.”

Schiller, who had earned his undergraduate degree from Wake Forest in three years, was similarly overjoyed when he learned about his award.

“I was euphoric,” the Winston-Salem resident says.

The scholarship allowed him and his wife, Annette, a 1965 graduate of Wake Forest Baptist’s Medical Technology Program, to have a slight margin above subsistence. They married after his first year in medical school, and their first child arrived during his fourth year. That daughter, Anne B. Schiller, MD ’94, went on to medical school at Wake Forest as well.

For Eakins, the scholarship made his medical school decision a moot point. “Bowman Gray chose me,” he says. He looks back on the award as “a blessing,” to him and to his father.

“My father had paid all of my Carolina tuition and expenses—the Cecil Eakins scholarship, if you will—and never once complained or mentioned it,” he says. “So the Reynolds Scholarship was a great gift to him, too. It made you realize that it was a gift at the right time.”

‘A Place Where People Would Look Out for Me’
Without a Reynolds Scholarship and the promise of being debt-free at graduation, many recipients say they would have attended medical school at a state-supported college or university with lower tuition.

“I would have gone to (North) Carolina had I not been honored with that scholarship,” says Hamp Lefler, MD ’63, a resident of Hickory, N.C., who went into ophthalmology.

The scholarship news also was decisive for Tom Hunt, MD ’71, who was accepted at all five medical schools to which he applied. Before receiving his scholarship, he says that during his Wake Forest interview he felt “a warmth here that was perfect.

“I clearly remember Associate Dean (Robert) Tuttle met me as soon as I entered the room, and I knew this was a place where people would look out for me.”

Hunt wrote to Duke, UNC and Wake Forest spelling out his financial situation and needs. Bowman Gray was the one that offered the Robert Edward Lasater Scholarship provided through the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. Hunt recalls that the Reynolds Scholars Program awards carried specific names.

The kindness that Hunt sensed during his interview proved to be a vital support during his second year of medical school after the home that he shared with several classmates burned down.

“Even months later, faculty members would still place money in our mailboxes, just to help us out after the fire,” says Hunt, now a retired radiologist in Winston-Salem.

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