When Mike Murray retired from a 25-year career in management at ExxonMobil in 2006, he and his wife, Susan, were eager to support higher education in some way. It was an opportunity to do good that they could not pass up.
As an ExxonMobil retiree, Mr. Murray qualified for the company’s matching-gifts program, which will triple any gift he makes to an eligible institution of higher learning. For the Murrays, the program offered a simple way to maximize their giving. “My wife and I wanted somebody to be able to take advantage of the ExxonMobil matching program,” he says. To make their choice the couple reflected on the experiences of their son Sean, a graduate of the College.
After graduating from high school in 1991, Sean Murray enrolled at the University of Texas (UT) to study electrical engineering. While there he learned about Thomas Aquinas College through his local Catholic church. Intrigued by the College’s great books curriculum, Sean decided after two years to leave UT and restart his undergraduate education as a freshman at Thomas Aquinas College.
Although Mr. Murray had never heard of the College, he was at peace with his son’s decision. “I didn’t have a strong opinion, as long as it wasn’t a third-rate school,” he laughs. “Sean was a National Merit Scholar in high school, so he needed to go somewhere where he would get a decent education. He convinced me that he would get that at Thomas Aquinas.”
Soon Mike would come to see that his son was getting much more than just that. “A couple of times a year I would have to go to Los Angeles for business, so I would drive up to campus and see how Sean was doing,” he recalls. “I liked the structure and the discipline both in the curriculum and in the campus life,” he adds. “I appreciated the fact that there was a focus on education. You don’t go to Thomas Aquinas to goof off.”
Reflecting on his own education at the United States Military Academy at West Point, Mr. Murray notes, “I was trained at one of the best engineering schools in the country, and we studied Pascal and Descartes, but not their original writings. I suspect it was a lot easier the way we did it than the way the College does it. The College’s way is more difficult, and probably a better education.”
Sean (’97) and Robin (Kretschmer ’99) MurraySean graduated from the College in 1997, and three years later graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law. He is today a partner at the intellectual-property firm of Kobbe Martens in Orange County, Calif., where he lives with his wife, Robin (Kretschmer ’99), and their four children.
Sean’s experience at the College convinced the Murrays that it would be a worthy recipient of his — and the ExxonMobil Foundation’s — support. “There are way too many colleges that are involved in trying to teach people what to think instead of how to think. But at Thomas Aquinas College, where you learn through the Socratic Method, that’s teaching you how to think. That, frankly, is a real plus.”
Discussions with Sean and Robin also convinced the Murrays that the College would put their gifts to good use — namely, financial aid. “Our children all had their college tuition paid for them because we were successful in the corporate world,” he reflects. “But there are smart people whose families don’t have that kind of money, and they need some help to go to a good school like Thomas Aquinas. We want to help people like that out.”
Although the ExxonMobil Foundation does not allow gifts to be designated for a specific purpose, virtually all private, unrestricted contributions to Thomas Aquinas College fund the school’s financial aid program. In keeping with its Catholic mission, the College is committed never to turning away a student on the basis of financial need. Every year the generosity of benefactors such as the Murrays helps the College to keep that commitment, ensuring that more than 70 percent of its students receive some form of necessary assistance.
For the last five years the Murrays have given the College generous gifts which the ExxonMobil Foundation has then tripled. “People don’t realize that ExxonMobil Foundation has given away $477 million since it was started,” Mr. Murray notes. “It gave away $40 million just last year.”
“We’re grateful to the Murrays, both for their kindness to the College and for having the wisdom to take advantage of the ExxonMobil Foundation’s exceptionally generous matching-gift program,” says Tom Susanka , the College’s director of gift planning. “Many corporations match the charitable giving of employees, former employees, and their spouses. But most of our benefactors who are eligible never take advantage of the opportunity, and that is a shame. They are missing out on a benefit they have worked hard to earn, one which could do wonders for the institution that they have so graciously chosen to support.”
Mr. Susanka explains that many are unaware that they are eligible for matching-gifts programs, but this problem is easily remedied. “We have a matching-gifts search engine  on the College website,” he says. “Just type in the name of your current or past employer, and it will tell you not only if you are eligible, but if so, how to start having your gifts matched.”
That one small step could do a world of good. Just ask Susan and Mike Murray.
Posted: July 2, 2012