Tomlinson planned $1 million estate gift to alma mater that may be closing

A lawsuit filed by the state of Virginia seeking to halt the closing of Sweet Briar College cites a planned $1 million estate gift from Mayor Teresa Tomlinson to her alma mater, Tomlinson confirmed tonight.

Tomlinson, who was named the all-women school’s Distinguished Alumna of the Year in 2012 and is slated to be its commencement speaker this spring, graduated from Sweet Briar in 1987, just before entering Emory University School of Law.

Sweet Briar’s board of trustees recently announced plans to close the historic school because of dwindling enrollment, in spite of its reported $85 million endowment. But the suit filed by Virginia claims that school leaders continued to accept offers of gifts such as Tomlinson’s, even after plans to close were under way but not yet announced.

Tomlinson and her husband, Tripp, have no children or nieces or nephews, “so we have long planned on leaving a significant gift to Sweet Briar. We updated our wills and executed the gift in August of 2014, to help the college continue its mission of educating women leaders, which Tripp and I strongly support.”

In a letter dated Feb. 16, Sweet Briar interim President James Jones thanked Tomlinson for her generosity.

"By including Sweet Briar in your estate plans, you have made a significant commitment to future generations of young women and to all that Sweet Briar can mean in their lives,” Jones wrote, just two weeks before announcing the school’s impending closure.

Tomlinson said she heard about the planned closure when a newspaper reporter from Virginia called her for comment. She and her husband have since written Sweet Briar out of their wills, but hope that the school can get back to its former stature and they can reconsider their gift.

“What I want to see come out of this is for the leadership to see that there are people willing and able to step in and help,” Tomlinson said. “Hopefully, they will step aside and let new leadership take over and lead the college to where it should be.”