Mary Lacey Long Wolfe

Student Experience Leads to a Couple’s Bequest

When Mary Lacey Long Wolfe (College ’88) first attended the University of Virginia, she planned to be a pediatrician. But her academic course changed direction when she encountered “English for Non-English Majors.”

“I really loved the teacher—Debra Nystrom—who was a graduate student,” she said. Other professors in the English department inspired her as well. “I enjoyed writing and thinking creatively, being able to communicate effectively in multiple media,” she said. “After taking a few classes, I realized that this was something I was really good at doing.”

After graduation, Ms. Wolfe was a WorldTeach volunteer, teaching high school English and history in a village in Kenya for a year. When she returned, she moved to San Francisco, where she was hired by Reference Software International as a product manager for its grammar-checking software product. “They assumed that with my English degree I would have grammar skills,” she said. “It was also a door opener for me, because many of the other employees had degrees from business schools.” The position turned out to be a steppingstone in a career that she is passionate about—translating market need into new technology and Internet products.

Both Ms. Wolfe and her husband, Michael, attended college thanks to work-study programs, grants, and scholarships. Ms. Wolfe’s work-study position in the rare books room at Alderman Library not only enabled her to meet British writer Graham Greene but also led her to a lifelong appreciation of the art of the book. It recently inspired her and her husband to make an unrestricted bequest to the University Library system, which includes U.Va.’s sixteen libraries. “The libraries at U.Va. are making literary treasures available for future generations,” she said. “They preserve a vital part of who we are as humans.”

In addition to their bequest to the Library and to the University’s general endowment fund, the Wolfes have pledged funding for a work-study position for students interested in working with special exhibits in the Harrison Institute/Small Special Collections Library.

“My husband and I have always thought that, because we both went to school on work study, grants, and scholarships, we wanted to help others have the same opportunities,” she said.

Ms. Wolfe is gratified that, while the University continues to progress in many ways, important things don’t change. Mr. Jefferson’s University, she said, “continues to turn out people driven to transform the world in whatever way they can, on both a large and small scale. The imperative to give back is such a vital part of the U.Va. experience.”