Six decades have passed since Barbara Upson Gravely Welch donned her graduation cap and gown, but she still remembers the bittersweet feelings she had about leaving Mary Washington.
“I was almost sad to graduate,” said Barbara, who started out a shy history major but was eventually elected senior class president. “I enjoyed my college years immensely and realized what a difference Mary Washington made in my life. That’s what inspired my giving.”
Barbara has donated to the University of Mary Washington every year since she graduated, earning her a spot in UMW’s new Forever True Circle, which honors donors who have made a recurring or annual contribution for three or more years. Her gifts to the unrestricted Fund for Mary Washington underscore her trust in the University and help guarantee that it can continue to address its most pressing needs.
“I benefited from all aspects of my Mary Washington education,” said Barbara, who grew up in Delaware and Central New Jersey. She hadn’t even heard of the small school in Fredericksburg until several friends mentioned it, but a visit to campus confirmed that it was the place for her.
She loved the history courses she took with Professors Carrol H. Quenzel and Laura Sumner, as well as the broad liberal arts and sciences curriculum she found at Mary Washington. “College really opens your mind to different perspectives, opinions, and ideas,” she said.
Barbara then became president of her senior class and gained a seat on Honor Council, serving as its vice president. “Those experiences made me into a confident young adult,” she said. “Faculty at my high school said that they needed to send more students to Mary Washington, because of how I had turned out.”
After graduation, she taught high school history until her children were born. She jumped into a new profession over a decade later, becoming an environmental paralegal in the legal department of chemical manufacturer DuPont, where her father had also worked.
“I fell in love with the law,” said Barbara, who rose through the ranks for 25 years, until she retired in 2004. She spent the next decade earning her pilot’s license and learning how to fly her husband’s plane. “My education has allowed me to zigzag and try many different things.”
Over the years, she has kept in touch with Mary Washington, at first by interviewing scholarship applicants and participating in a regional alumni network, where she enjoyed connecting with older alumni from the 1930s and 1940s. Now, Barbara misses her dear friend, Connie Booth Logothetis ’61, who always shared her important milestones with their classmates in Class Notes.
And Barbara continues to invest in UMW and its students. “College is such a formative time and what you do with it makes a difference for the rest of your life,” she said. “Mary Washington helped me, and I want to honor that by giving back.”
Q: As a student, what was your favorite spot on the Mary Washington campus?
A: The Ann Carter Lee Hall kitchen/café.
Q: What might surprise your classmates to learn about you?
A: I’m taking voice lessons for the first time. After COVID, it seemed like we didn’t talk or sing as much. Now that I’m alone, I needed a new challenge and wanted to try something creative.
Q: What else do you do in your free time?
A: I no longer fly our plane, but I love to travel and just returned from Hawaii. I also exercise and volunteer at the Mary Campbell Center in Wilmington, Delaware. My second husband, Charles Welch, founded it in 1976 as a residence for disabled adults, in honor of his daughter, Charmie.
Q: What are the words you live by?
A: When I was nervous about taking on leadership roles in college, my father said, “Barbara, if you respect the people who asked you, you should have no doubt that they believe you can do it.” After that, I went through life accepting any challenge that came my way.
Article written by Assistant Director of Advancement Communications Jill Graziano Laiacona ’04