Note: A public celebration of Richardson’s life will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 18, at the Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium on Wofford’s campus. The service will be livestreamed at this LINK.
Over the years, Jerry Richardson openly talked about the impact that Wofford College had on his life after he arrived on campus in 1954 as an 18-year-old with a partial scholarship to play football.
He spent the rest of his life making an impact on Wofford College. Richardson died March 1, 2023. He was 86.
“Mr. Richardson’s impact on Wofford College is immeasurable. I know of no one more generous with his time, wisdom and resources,” says Dr. Nayef Samhat, president of Wofford College. “While his gifts to the college and other organizations throughout the Carolinas are legendary, I will forever remember him for his quiet generosity and the gifts that didn’t capture headlines. So many have him to thank for kindnesses large and small. Our community sends condolences to Mrs. Richardson and his family. We will miss him greatly.”
Richardson, a Wofford trustee emeritus, mentored students and alumni while making game-changing financial contributions to the college.
His lifetime giving to Wofford exceeded $270 million, including a $150 million gift to the college’s endowment in 2021. That gift focused on four areas:
- Need-based financial aid impacting hundreds of students each year.
- Experiential learning opportunities for students with financial need.
- An initiative that transitioned the college’s support staff to a minimum wage of $15 per hour.
- A special fund for the maintenance, repair and improvement of campus buildings.
Earnings from the gift will continue in perpetuity and will forever influence the college.
The Richardsons supported 14 capital projects since 1979, and 36 students have benefitted from the Richardson Family Scholarship, which provides a full four-year scholarship to one student in each class. The scholarship includes books, a laptop, paid internships and a month-long study abroad experience.
Richardson never forgot his humble beginnings. He kept a photo in his Charlotte, North Carolina, office of his childhood home in Fayetteville, North Carolina. There was no running water nor electricity. His father was a barber; his mother worked in a women’s clothing store. They didn’t have a car until Richardson was 16 years old. When Richardson enrolled at Wofford, he depended on his football scholarship and on a $30 a month job as a resident assistant. His childhood experiences have stayed with him always and have shaped his philanthropy with an emphasis on providing opportunities through education.
As a student, Richardson was a member of Kappa Alpha Order, president of the Inter-Fraternity Council and a member of Blue Key National Honor Fraternity and Scabbard and Blade military fraternity. He was drafted in the 13th round by the NFL Baltimore Colts after his junior year, but he was determined to finish his degree and complete his college football career with the Terriers. After graduation, Richardson played two seasons in the NFL, earning Colt Rookie of the Year honors in 1959 and catching a touchdown pass in the 1959 Championship game from Johnny Unitas.
Richardson then embarked on a successful business career with his Wofford teammate, Charlie Bradshaw. Opening the first Hardee’s franchise in Spartanburg, he and Bradshaw co-founded Spartan Food Systems. Richardson later was the CEO of Flagstar, which was the sixth largest food service company in the nation.
On Oct. 26, 1993, Richardson became the first former NFL player since George Halas to become an owner when the Carolinas were unanimously awarded the NFL’s 29th franchise. The Carolina Panthers began play in 1995 and reached the NFC Championship game in the 1996 season. The Panthers won the NFC Championship in 2003 and 2015, advancing to Super Bowls XXXVIII and 50. The team has held training camp at Wofford since its inception.
Richardson is the only person to be inducted into both the North Carolina and South Carolina Business and Athletic Halls of Fame.
Throughout his life, he treasured being named the Wofford football team’s captain in 1958 as one of the greatest honors in his life. The college retired his No. 51 jersey in 2011. Richardson was named an Associated Press Little America selection in 1957 and 1958. Three of his records as a wide receiver still stand for the Terrier football team.