Corry W. Oakes III ’89 brokered a lot of big deals during his lifetime. But it was his family, the relationships that he built along the way and small acts of kindness that he valued most.
Oakes, the CEO and a co-founder of OTO Development and the former chair of the Wofford College Board of Trustees, died suddenly on Sunday, Aug. 7. He was 55.
“Corry was an amazing man of character and integrity,” his brother, Alex Oakes, said during a memorial service held Friday, Aug. 12, at Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium. “We were brought up to work hard, love one another and respect others, and I think most of the people here know that’s what Corry did. He was a competitor, he was a leader, a teacher, he was a giving man and a humble man. Life gives you so many days. What you do with them is up to you. Let me tell you, Corry filled his up.”
Oakes, a native of Lawrenceville, Ga., attended Wofford on an academic and athletics scholarship. He was a force on and off the football field – playing outside linebacker and collecting three letters while earning a B.A. in business economics and laying the foundation for his career.
After graduating, Oakes went to work for WJB Video, a Blockbuster Video franchisee whose managing partner was George Dean Johnson Jr. ’64. Johnson took an instant liking to Oakes, and for more than 30 years they were together as friends and business partners.
Their next endeavor together was Extended Stay America, where Oakes served as president and COO. They took the hotel chain to unprecedented heights, turning it into the fastest-growing owner-operated chain in industry history before selling in 2004.
“Corry was more than just the consummate professional and leader in the lodging industry,” according to a statement shared by George Dean Johnson Jr., Geordy Johnson and Susanna Johnson Shannon on behalf of The Johnson Group and the Johnson family. “He was a tremendous community servant, a mentor to all he worked with, a loving father and family man, and a most trusted advisor on so many different levels to our family. Words cannot describe how deeply he will be missed.”
Oakes, Todd Turner and Jim Ovenden ’85 – along with Johnson and the late H. Wayne Huizenga – then founded OTO, a hotel development and hospitality management company.
“Over the past 18 years with OTO, I’ve spent more of my waking hours with Corry Oakes than I have with any member of my family,” Turner said during the memorial service. “That may have felt like a sacrifice to my wife and kids, but I am who I am because of my time with him. I’m a better father, husband, friend and human. Our time together was a rare and spectacular gift that I will forever cherish.”
Oakes served on Wofford’s Board of Trustees from 2009-21 and was chairman from 2019-21. He previously served on the Terrier Club board of directors and on the President’s Advisory Board.
Johnson honored Oakes’ service to Wofford and the community by establishing two endowed scholarships in his name. The Corry W. Oakes III ’89 Endowed Scholarship Fund was established in 2006 to support members of the football team. The Corry W. Oakes III Endowed Interim Support Fund, established in 2021, will allow students with financial need to make the most of international travel and internship experiences.
“Corry’s impact on our community will stretch far beyond the 37 years he’s been a Terrier,” says Wofford President Nayef Samhat. “Future generations will have opportunities for a Wofford education and for international travel, study and internships because of his legacy. He was a champion for student success, dedicated to the educational mission, and we will always remember his commitment, generosity and love for Wofford College.”