(Editor’s Note: The GAA’s Distinguished Service Medal citations, such as this one, are read to the audience at the Annual Alumni Luncheon and then presented as a keepsake to the recipients.)
Distinguished Service Medal Citation
Richard Hampton Jenrette ’51
Those who knew Dick Jenrette ’51 as a student never doubted he would be a success, most likely as a journalist or politician. But no one could have predicted how truly spectacular his life would become as a Wall Street legend, celebrated preservationist and author, and philanthropist. Famed as the Great Contrarian, Dick now can make a truly unique boast: He’s the only journalism major who owns six mansions.
After graduating from Carolina, Dick served in the Korean War before receiving his MBA from Harvard in 1957. In 1959 he embarked on a remarkable career as a founder of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette. A gifted business leader, he later served as CEO of The Equitable Companies, where he continued to spurn business-as-usual tactics and transformed the struggling insurance company. During the 1980s, he became known as “the last gentleman on Wall Street.”
Dick Spangler ’54 says that his friend’s career has been a textbook case of the person who wanted to have a positive impact on business in the United States—very creative but also quite determined, and relentless in a way, to make sure his ideas are implemented.
After he retired in 1996, he wrote Jenrette: The Contrarian Manager, in which he chronicled business lessons he learned and unorthodox approaches he took during his career. It may be the only management guide with information about using handwriting analysis and astrology in making a hiring decision. Dick’s sign, of course, is the ram.
His contributions to Carolina cover all corners of the campus. He served on the Board of Trustees, Board of Visitors and the Bicentennial Campaign Steering Committee. A foundation bearing Dick’s name has contributed to the Kenan-Flagler Business School MBA Fellowships, the Macon Patton Memorial Professorship, the Charles Kuralt Learning Center in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and the School of Medicine. His UNC honors include a Distinguished Alumnus Award, an honorary doctor of laws degree, and the William Richardson. Davie Award.
A Raleigh native, Dick developed a passion for classical architecture after seeing Gone With the Wind in 1939, when he was 10. He begged his parents to drive him around town, always on the lookout for Tara or Twelve Oaks. He settled for anything with columns.
In later life his taste in homes is anything but predictable. An award-winning collector of 19th century American art and antiques, he has restored six historically significant homes—the George F. Baker House in Manhattan; Edgewater on the Hudson River; Millford Plantation and Roper House, both in South Carolina; Ayr Mount in Hillsborough; and Cane Garden in St. Croix. All are celebrated in the book he wrote about his passion, Adventures With Old Houses.
He brought that careful touch of class to Carolina’s old houses. When he contributed to renovations of Old East and Old West residence halls, Dick observed that college students are “just the age where you have to stun them with something beautiful. I think they’re quite capable of appreciating beauty.”
Dick’s experiences as an undergraduate had a profound impact on the leader and innovator he became. He was editor of The Daily Tar Heel. And while president of Chi Psi, he was told by the fraternity’s executive director that, frankly, the lodge was a scrub bunch that didn’t measure up. Dick went to work. He transformed the organization into a group that by his senior year was a benchmark of campus leadership. Dick says the lessons he learned about leadership at Chi Psi were more valuable than anything he learned at Harvard.
Frank Daniels Jr. ’53 says that Dick is “a man with a wonderful sense of humor, extremely good judgment, and he does a great job getting you to do what it is he wants you to do. He’s had a great life, and he’s the one who has made it such a great life.”
The next chapter of Dick’s life is still unfolding. He’s on the Duke Endowment Board and Harvard Board of Overseers, and divides his time among his fabulous homes. He plans over time to donate all of them to the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust so the public can enjoy the treasures he has nurtured over the years.
“I think I have been really lucky,” Dick says. “Life’s not over yet, and I may still make some wrong turns. But I feel like I inherited a nice world. Everything I’ve done, I’ve tried to leave a little better than I found it. Some people are takers and some people are builders. I think it’s better to be a builder than a taker.”
Dick’s friend and Chi Psi brother Phil Smith ’64 considers him one of his three heroes.
“Dick is probably Chi Psi’s most renowned alumnus,” Phil says. “An icon of gentlemanly behavior, the revolutionary leader who reshaped Wall Street’s organizational model, a philanthropic preservationist who has saved seven classic American homes from neglect and decay, and a fraternity party boy who went door to door at UNC with a smile and glass extended to receive welcoming libation.”
We raise a glass today to the kind of leader who makes greatness perpetual for this University.