The O. Wayne Rollins Foundation committed $100 million to the Rollins School of Public Health, University President Gregory Fenves announced Monday at an event celebrating the largest donation in the school’s history. 

Fenves’ speech was cut off as the auditorium — which was full of public health students and Rollins administrators — erupted into applause for 20 seconds straight.

The money will go towards establishing two endowment funds for students and faculty, Fenves said. 

The Rollins Fund for Student Success will be used to double the number of merit scholarships given to public health students. The school will also provide students with career-enhancing experiences through the Rollins Earn and Learn work-study and global field experience funds.

“The Rollins endowment will also allow us to tap into the recent explosion in interest among students in the field of public health that has occurred, of course, because we are still in the middle of a global pandemic,” Fenves said.

The second fund, called the Rollins Fund for Faculty Excellence, will be dedicated to “recruiting and retaining exceptional senior faculty” by nearly doubling the number of the school’s endowed faculty positions and providing early career support for junior faculty. 

“Not only will this fund empower our outstanding public health experts in addressing the most pressing public health challenges through their research, fieldwork and teaching,” Fenves continued, “it will fuel development, allowing us to attract and retain brilliant professors and researchers: key priorities within the Rollins school so the school can reach even greater heights of excellence and impact.”

Fenves said the donation will open the door to a new phase of the public health school.

Emory University President Gregory L. Fenves stands with University leaders outside the Rollins School of Public Health after the largest gift donation in the school’s history was announced on Feb. 1. (Emory University)

The Rollins family has a long history of philanthropy at the school. Since 1992, they have given Emory $125 million to construct buildings for the school, including the Grace Crum Rollins Building, the Claudia Nance Rollins Building and the R. Randall Rollins Building, which is currently under construction. 

They have also gifted the school $100,000 to establish the O. Wayne and Grace Crum Rollins Endowment Fund, which is now worth over $30 million, and $10 million to establish the James W. Curran Scholarship Fund. 

“This partnership has been critical in making the Rollins School of Public Health one of the top public health schools in America,” Goddard said.

Both Curran and the Rollins family received standing ovations during their introductions.

Chairman of the Woodruff Health Science Committee John Rice, who is also a cabinet member for Emory’s latest fundraising campaign 2036, said the donation is “pacesetter” to strengthen the individual schools’ endowments and shift the University’s focus on investing in “our people, our students and our faculty.”

“This is just the next step in the commitment that the Rollins family has made to Emory and the School of Public Health,” Rice said. “This endowment will change the lives of students and faculty forever, and it’s the wonderful thing about building the endowment. It’s the gift that keeps giving.” 

Rice also credited the school’s success to Dean of Rollins School of Public Health James Curran, who has been the dean for over 25 years and is retiring soon. He will be replaced by the incoming dean, Dani Fallin, on July 1. She is currently the chair of the Department of Mental Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (Md.) and also works as the director of the Wendy Klag Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities. 

Appointed as dean in 1995, only five years after the school was founded, Curran said in a speech at the event that he had plenty of public health knowledge and experience when he began his career with the University. Academia and philanthropy, however, were different stories — Curran’s only experience, he said, was when he failed at selling Boy Scout cookies as a kid. 

However, Curran said he learned everything he could from the Rollins family, especially Randall Rollins, who died on Aug. 17, 2020.

“We all miss him,” Curran said. “I wish he was alive to see the R. Randall walls go up. He would have been very proud of it, I think.” 

Curran still has a coin with adages inscribed on it Randall Rollins gave him, and he pulled it out to read during his speech. One side reminds Curran to “do what’s right. Everyone knows what’s right. If it is indeed, it’s up to me.” The other side reminds him to keep an “ever-can-do attitude. Do not lie. Do not steal. Do not cheat. Do not be afraid, and of course, work hard.”

“He did that until his very last days,” Curran said.