Lauries’ Gift Critical to University Campaign

By Bill Dries

The new Loewenberg School of Nursing on the University of Memphis’ Park Avenue campus is already taking shape as 2013 comes to an end.

And more changes for a campus that has remained largely the same for a long time are certain to gain momentum with this week’s announcement of a $10 million gift by Bill and Nancy Laurie to University of Memphis athletics.


The Lauries’ donation, the second-largest single gift in the university’s 100-year history, is 25 percent of the $40 million goal that university interim president Brad Martin set shortly after he succeeded Shirley Raines, who retired this summer.

The capital campaign is aimed squarely at transforming the Park Avenue campus on the southeast corner of Park and Getwell Road. The site of the old Kennedy Hospital still retains many of the buildings that were used by the hospital.

But in recent years, some athletic department functions have shifted to the Park Avenue campus from the area south of the railroad tracks along Southern Avenue on the main campus that has traditionally been the home of Tiger athletics on several fronts.

The Park Avenue campus’ orientation will change with the Loewenberg School of Nursing building, which will face Park. The $60 million Community Health Building is separate from the ongoing capital campaign.

With $45 million in state government funding, the four-story, 177,000-square-foot building represents one of the two biggest capital spending items in Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s current fiscal-year budget. The commitment of state funding came in February during Raines’ tenure, with the university raising the remaining $15 million.

The nursing school will have 1,100 students and 68 faculty and staff. The building will also be home to the Memphis Speech and Hearing Center, which is now in the Memphis Medical District but has been part of the university since 1967.

Meanwhile, an entrance off Goodlett Road is expected to be part of a master plan for the Park Avenue campus to be unveiled next year.

Martin has also said the university is interested in providing for the upkeep and operation of nearby Audubon Park.

Laurie – a guard on the 1973 University of Memphis basketball team that played and lost to UCLA in the NCAA finals – and his wife are no strangers to sports-based philanthropy or to professional sports.

The Lauries, who live in the St. Louis area, met when they were both students at the University of Memphis.

Nancy Laurie is the daughter of Wal-Mart cofounder James “Bud” Walton.

The Lauries’ sports management company, Paige Sports Entertainment, managed the St. Louis Blues hockey team, which Bill Laurie bought in 1999. He is no longer owner of the team. Laurie has also made several unsuccessful bids for various National Basketball Association teams, including what became the Memphis Grizzlies when the franchise was still in Vancouver in the late 1990s.

In 2004, the Lauries donated $25 million toward a sports arena at the University of Missouri-Columbia that was also named for their daughter Paige. The university renamed the arena after a cheating scandal that caused their daughter to return her degree from the University of Southern California.