Educators Floretta Lewis and Marilyn Leahy have always thought about the future.
In fact, it’s a shared trait that helped make them lifelong friends.
Having first met as coworkers at Oak Grove-Bellemeade Elementary School, Lewis and Leahy made a habit of taking on ambitious projects others shied away from, such as organizing the Title I school’s first ever book fair, in order to provide a brighter future for their students.
“We still talk about, ‘How can we get in trouble like that again?’, Leahy said recently, during one of the duo’s regular “powwows”, where they discuss topics ranging from their personal lives to the state of education over lunch.
Though Lewis initially only loosely knew Leahy at Oak Grove-Bellemeade, thanks to an interactive teaching style (“I swear her children left the classroom with hands-on activities to do every single time,” Lewis said) that often led to classes being late to Lewis’ library sessions, it was over projects like the book fair that the bond between them grew.
“That really started our friendship: when we realized both of us wanted to help students have the best opportunities available to them during their education,” Leahy said.
Now, the two friends have something else in common: both have made a generous planned gift to the VCU School of Education in their estate plans.
"The faculty and staff [at the School of Education] invested in you. They wanted more out of you than just the school work. You were like family.”
Having seen her friend Leahy include VCU in her will in 2012, Lewis decided to follow suit. Even though she’s not a School of Education alumna herself – Lewis earned her M.A. in teaching from Harvard University – she says giving to VCU still made perfect sense.
“There’s a system and a group of people in place at VCU that I feel I can trust,” Lewis said. “I know that my gift will be distributed quickly and go to those who need it most.”
“There was no sales pitch on my part,” Leahy said of her friend’s decision to give. “I remember just talking to her on the phone and telling her about [our gift], and she said, ‘Wait, you did what? Tell me more about that.’”
Like Lewis, Leahy’s own decision to support the School of Education also came down to trust. A three-time alum of VCU – Leahy received her bachelor’s degree in the School of Education’s now-defunct occupational education program and master’s degrees in both adult literacy and English – she cited the relationships she built at Oliver Hall as a major contributor to her decision to give.
“The faculty and staff there invested in you,” Leahy said. “They wanted more out of you than just the school work. You were like family, and they saw you as representing the School of Education everywhere you went.”
Now, thanks to their foresight and generous gifts, both Lewis and Leahy can rest assured that they have once again done their part for future students and educators.
“My mother’s motto to me was that the next generation always improves upon the previous one,” Lewis said. “So I made my decision to be part of, and contribute to, that positive growth.”