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In memory of R. Randall Rollins

Visionary businessman, greathearted philanthropist, and longtime champion of RSPH

By Martha McKenzie

R. Randall Rollins, a highly respected leader in Atlanta’s business and philanthropic communities and a longtime champion of the Rollins School of Public Health (RSPH), passed away on Monday, August 17, 2020. He was 88 years old and had suffered a short illness.

Rollins was chairman of the board of Rollins Inc., RPC Inc., and Marine Products Corporation, and a trustee of the O. Wayne Rollins Foundation. In 2015, Emory awarded Rollins an honorary degree in recognition of his extraordinary commitment to advancing global health.

Rollins, alongside his father, Wayne, and brother, Gary, created an enduring American success story that spanned several generations. While achieving immense business and financial success, Rollins and his family remained true to the values instilled in them through the generations.

Those values included giving back, and the RSPH has been a grateful beneficiary of that generosity. Through gifts of infrastructure and endowment, as well as providing expert guidance, Rollins played a critical role in propelling the RSPH from a fledgling school with a handful of students and faculty and no facility of its own to one of the top five schools of public health in the United States.

Today, the RSPH has more than 1,450 students and 200 faculty housed in two dedicated buildings. A third space, the R. Randall Rollins Building, is under construction and slated to open in 2022. The school is ranked 5th among all public health schools in NIH research funding. And more than 11,000 alumni in more than 110 countries are working to improve the health of global populations.

“We simply would not be where we are today without the Rollins family,” says Dean James Curran. “We have been able to attract and retain the highest caliber of faculty, students, and staff in large part because of the Rollinses’ support of our facilities and endowment. The resulting cadre of professionals we have trained and the significant research we have produced have changed lives for the better. Countless thousands throughout the world will lead longer, more productive lives because of the investments Randall Rollins made in public health.”

The Rollins family’s support dates back to 1990, when the Emory University Board of Trustees made the RSPH the first new school at Emory in more than 70 years. Upon hearing that a building was needed to house the faculty, staff, and students, Wayne Rollins expressed his desire to help. However, he died unexpectedly in 1991 before the project had left the drawing board. Determined to carry out his vision, Wayne’s wife, Grace, and two sons provided funding for a building named for their mother, Grace Crum Rollins. Shortly before the new facility opened in late 1994, the university named the school for the Rollins family in honor of their generosity to Emory.

The faculty and staff could not imagine how they would fill their expansive new home. But they did, and the school kept growing until it needed more room. And once again, the Rollins family answered the call, funding the Claudia Nance Rollins Building, named after the mother of Wayne Rollins. The building opened in 2010, more than doubling the physical size of the school, and including the 250-seat Rollins Auditorium, three floors of laboratory space, and an elegant meeting space, the Lawrence P. and Ann Estes Klamon Room.

The story has repeated itself. With back-to-back years of record enrollment, the school once more finds itself bursting at the seams. In 2019, the Rollins family pledged $65 million to construct the R. Randall Rollins Building, which will be adjacent to the first two.

The Rollins family has invested in the people of the RSPH as well as its bricks and mortar. The family funded the O. Wayne and Grace Crum Rollins Endowment, which provides the dean flexibility to respond to the school’s highest priorities and has enabled him to endow three department chairs and six assistant professors. These positions allow seasoned faculty the freedom to grow their research and junior faculty the opportunity to launch their research careers.

In addition, the family has honored friends by naming the following positions: the Michael M. E. Johns Distinguished Professor in Health Policy, the Wilton Looney Distinguished Professor in Cardiovascular Research, and the Stephen D. Clements Jr. Distinguished Professor in Cardiovascular Disease Prevention.

After 9/11, the family established the Center for Public Health Preparedness and Research, which has been active in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2018, the Rollins family established the Rollins Distinguished Professorship in Substance Use Disorders in response to the opioid epidemic.

The Rollins family has been instrumental in attracting top-flight students as well as faculty. The foundation was a major donor to the James W. Curran Scholarship Fund, established in honor of his 20th anniversary as dean. The scholarship—among the most generous given at Emory—provides support for some of the most outstanding RSPH students.

Beyond the RSPH, Emory has benefitted from the largesse of the Rollins family. They have made transformative gifts in support of the Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center, Emory School of Medicine, Winship Cancer Institute, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, and Candler School of Theology. The foundation was instrumental in the construction of the O. Wayne Rollins Research Center, which opened in 1990 and houses laboratories that have fueled discovery in fields including neuroscience, cellular biology, genetics, and immunology.

Beyond his vast business success and expansive philanthropy, the trait that truly defined Rollins was his love of family. Raised on a farm near Ringgold, Georgia, he grew up among parents and grandparents who instilled in him the value of hard work, integrity, and loyalty.

Rollins was happiest when he was with his wife of 67 years, Margaret (“Peggy”), and their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. The couple has six children: Rita Anne Rollins, who passed away in 1970; Richard Randall Rollins Jr.; Pamela Rollins; Robert Rollins; Timothy (Andrea) Rollins; and Amy (Nevin) Rollins Kreisler. They also have 18 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

“Randall Rollins was an extraordinary benefactor, friend, and family man,” says Curran. “He will be greatly missed.”

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