Current recipients of Lettie Pate Whitehead Scholarships at Erskine College attended a special event on the evening of March 12, just prior to the suspension of most campus activities in the wake of COVID-19 concerns. The young women gathered in the Founders Room of Moffatt Dining Hall to learn about the life of Lettie Pate Whitehead, enjoy a meal together, and hear words of advice and encouragement from Beth Gustafson, wife of Erskine President Dr. Robert Gustafson.
Lettie Pate Whitehead, known for her philanthropy, was one of the first women to serve as head of a major corporation. After the death of Whitehead’s husband in 1906, she “assumed leadership of his Coca Cola Bottling Company and caused it to prosper during a time when women were not CEOs of companies,” the first lady said. She noted the foresight of Conkey Pate Whitehead, “who set up the Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation to preserve his mother’s legacy as an outstanding female business leader and philanthropist.”
The first lady offered several challenges to the scholarship recipients, young women who have grown to maturity in a time when women “increasingly take leadership in business, medicine, research, and education.”
First, she stressed the importance of imitating a good example. “Each one of you has been given a gift in trust. Let that gift inspire you to emulate the intelligence, confidence, energy, and heart of Lettie Pate Whitehead.”
Second, she spoke about Ephesians 5:15, in which Paul urges Christians to “redeem the time, because the days are evil,” and applied the apostle’s message to today’s students, who could be called on to face difficulties in the future, some perhaps as daunting as the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Make the most of the time and resources you have,” Gustafson said. “There is much work to be done in order to combat the evils of ignorance, disease, poverty, and neglect that so many people suffer from in our country and around the world.”
At Erskine, students can acquire needed knowledge, but they must also “seize the opportunity to apply it,” she said, and advised students, “Pray that God will use you as an instrument of redemption in a broken world.”
Finally, the first lady drew on another passage from Ephesians to encourage students to use their time at Erskine not only to gain knowledge for their careers, but to ready themselves for what God has for them. “Make the most of your experiences here now—intellectually, socially, and spiritually,” she said, and quoted Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
“It’s wonderful to realize that from the foundation of the world, the Lord has prepared good works for you, and you specifically, to complete,” the first lady said.
“Walk confidently and faithfully with your God to fulfill all His good purposes for your life!”
The Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation’s scholarship program awards annual grants for the education of deserving female students with financial need at more than 200 accredited educational institutions in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.