by Ashley K. Speed
Jean Berger Estes ’75 can still remember what her husband was wearing in 1971 when they met during a biology lecture inside Millington Hall — down to the color of his belt buckle. It wasn’t fashion at first sight, but it was love, she says.
“I thought he was the cutest thing I had ever seen in my life,” she said. “He had on green converse tennis shoes with gold shoelaces, green corduroy jeans, a red belt with a big brass buckle and a red, white and blue short-sleeved dress shirt. I thought he was either colorblind or he had very poor taste in clothing.”
Rob Estes ’74 can’t deny his wife’s criticism of his outfit choice that winter day.
“It was the latter,” he said, with a laugh.
The connection that they formed in Millington Hall that February, served as a storybook opener for their 41-year marriage. Today, the power couple is using their strong partnership to kindle relationships others have with William & Mary as the co-chairs of the Richmond For the Bold regional campaign.
“While there are some alumni here who are already excited, I think there is a lot of work that can be done to engage more of our Richmond-area alumni, parents and friends,” Jean Estes said. “This campaign is an opportunity to create some excitement, meet new people and get more people to understand and support the vision of where William & Mary is going.”
A campaign celebration will be held in Richmond this spring that follows other celebrations in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington D.C. and Atlanta. There are currently 22,667 alumni, parents and friends who live in the Richmond metro area.
“The For the Bold campaign has three goals: strengthen alumni engagement, reach 40 percent alumni participation and raise $1 billion,” Rob Estes said. “All three goals are key. We want to develop the message within our campaign team that if we can coalesce our base in Richmond, we will be doing our part toward fulfilling those three goals.”
Destined for admission
The choice to attend William & Mary was an easy one for Rob, who grew up in Richmond. The university had a good reputation and his mother liked it. But Jean, who was raised in Gretna, Va., had written off attending William & Mary. The youngest of three children, she didn’t want to follow in the footsteps of her older sister and brother who were both members of the Tribe. But then fate stepped in. Her brother, Glenn Berger ’74, J.D. ’77, suggested she visit him at William & Mary the spring of her high school senior year. He thought the cost of a W&M education would be easier financially on their parents compared to the two private schools Jean had applied to.
Reluctantly, she took her brother up on his offer and visited William & Mary. During her visit she met Rob during a biology class. A mutual friend of her brother’s and Rob’s suggested that he take her to a party that night.
“Being the gentleman that he is, he couldn’t say no,” Jean Estes said. “There he was stuck with taking this high school senior to a party. As luck would have it, we ran into one of those torrential Williamsburg rains and so we made a deli run at about 11 p.m. It turned out to be a really fun night.”
Jean was finally sold on W&M, but it was after the application deadline had already passed for the fall semester. Her brother was unrelenting. He sat in the admission office for hours until the head of admission agreed to let his kid sister apply.
“It’s a shameful story and if either of our children had told us they wanted to go to a college because they had met someone I would have had a fit, but it worked for us,” Jean said.
A year after Jean graduated from W&M they married in her hometown. The couple credits William & Mary with helping to launch their careers. Rob Estes is the president and CEO of Estes Express lines, a full-service freight transportation provider.
Jean, who comes from a long line of educators, worked as a schoolteacher in Chesterfield and Darlington County for several years.
A sound investment
“I believe William & Mary is a very special place. For Jean and myself, it provided an environment that really influenced the rest of our lives,” Rob Estes said. “Without alumni, parents and friends giving back to W&M to make it an even better university, opportunities for incoming students won’t be as fantastic as what Jean and I experienced.”
The couple has continually given to the university in many ways, including through the Estes Challenge and the 1693 Scholars Program. The Estes Challenge, which is designed to encourage increased annual giving, supports students and faculty in the Raymond A. Mason School of Business in several ways by funding scholarships, career development services and undergraduate initiatives. The Estes 1693 Scholars Endowment provides full financial support for highly talented students to attend W&M. The first Estes 1693 Scholar will graduate in May, and Jean and Rob have enjoyed the opportunity to follow her path during her four years at W&M.
“I come from a middle-income background and college is out of reach for a lot of middle-income families today,” Jean Estes said. “So many people in the Richmond area can provide vital funding to help exceptional students afford the opportunity to attend William & Mary and advance the overall academic experience through scholarships support. Supporting the 1693 Scholars Program allows us to be a part of the effort to make sure William & Mary can attract some of the very best students. We wanted to ensure that the brightest kids are rewarded for their intellect and drawn to W&M instead of other universities.”
The Estes are members of several boards at the university. Jean is a member of the Campaign Steering Committee and the Society of 1918 and has also served as co-chair of the Class of 1975’s 30th Reunion Committee. She is an emeritus trustee of the College of William & Mary Foundation. Rob is a member of the Campaign Steering Committee, the W&M Business School Foundation and previously served on the Class of 1974’s 30th and 40th Reunion Gift Committees.
“I think the university has a track record of making really good use of the money that has been given to them,” Jean said. “We feel very strongly that W&M stretches every dollar that they have and that they are good stewards of our gifts. We confidently give to William & Mary knowing that our money is going to be well invested and well used not only today, but in the future … or as President Taylor Reveley would say, for all time coming.”