“It was the best investment I ever made,” Miller said.
It’s an investment that paid off for both Miller and MTSU. The Nashville health-care entrepreneur gave the university $10 million, the school announced Friday, the largest single gift in its history.
The gift came as part of its centennial capital campaign, which quietly began three years ago and has raised $54 million of its $80 million total goal. The campaign will last through 2015.
MTSU celebrated its 100-year anniversary Sept. 11.
“Woody’s not alone in wanting the best for MTSU. Already, a number of our friends and alumni have made significant contributions to the university,” said President Sidney McPhee. “These investments are necessary to secure our role as a leader in public higher education, not only in Tennessee but across the nation.”
Friday’s Celebration of Philanthropy honored those who have given to the university throughout their lives or have made provisions to give through their estates upon their death. Miller has given to the university for more than 30 years, donating the final $250,000 that made the Paul W. Martin Honors College building a reality.
Joe Bales, the university’s vice president for development and university relations, said that when MTSU officials began planning for the centennial, they decided it was time to look at the university’s needs and aspirations.
“Our intent was to begin developing a long-term blueprint that could guide our fundraising activities for the next 10 years or so,” he said.
Meetings with academic and athletic leaders resulted in a list of more than 50 priorities with a cost of $170 million that needed review and assessment. Those included more scholarships and graduate assistant opportunities, creating 30 endowed faculty chairs and professorships, building international partnerships and funding the university’s portion of a $126.7 million science building.
In athletics, goals included competing at the highest levels by building a multipurpose indoor facility, making enhancements to Murphy Center, constructing an indoor tennis center and establishing 50 endowed student-athlete scholarships.
“Since moving to Division I-A, MTSU has made significant progress in all sports and today stands as the pre-eminent program in the Sun Belt Conference, recognized nationally for its success in the playing arena and in the classroom,” McPhee said.
Miller said there are many reasons people give, but his reason was simple.
“I’m giving this $10 million to the university to help anything that will enhance the quality of education,” said Miller, 68, who graduated with an accounting degree.
He began his career working for an international accounting firm and joined Hospital Corporation of America shortly after its inception. Miller went on to found several health-care companies, including Surgical Care Affiliates and Women’s Health Partners.
“It’s very important for people to give back when they can. You can’t put a luggage rack on a hearse. You can’t take it with you when you leave this Earth,” he said.
At the end of the event, several of MTSU’s other biggest supporters introduced themselves to Miller, including Mary Dodd Mifflin.
“Thank you so much for your gift. It just gives me goose bumps thinking about it,” she said.
MTSU grad Pamela Wright, founder and CEO of Nashville-based Wright Travel, served as chairwoman of the campaign.
“I’m even more excited about the opportunity to look ahead and begin to think and do something about the future of Middle Tennessee State University. That’s what this campaign is all about,” she said.
MTSU’s endowment as of June 30 was $58.9 million.