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Penn State Mourns Death of Leader and Philanthropist William Schreyer

William A. Schreyer, chairman emeritus of Merrill Lynch & Co Inc., and one of the Penn State’s most prominent alumni and supporters, died on Jan. 22 at his home in Princeton, N.J. He was 83.
January 24, 2011
Penn State Mourns Death of Leader and Philanthropist William Schreyer

William A. Schreyer

William A. Schreyer, chairman emeritus of Merrill Lynch & Co Inc., and one of the Penn State's most prominent alumni and supporters, died on Jan. 22 at his home in Princeton, N.J. He was 83.

Schreyer, who graduated in 1948 from what is now the Smeal College of Business, served as president of Penn State's Board of Trustees and as chair of its first major fundraising campaign. He is being remembered at his alma mater as a pioneering leader and philanthropist whose legacy includes the nationally recognized honors college that bears his name.

"No one has had greater ambition for Penn State and its students than Bill Schreyer," said Penn State Board of Trustees President Steve Garban. "He and his wife, Joan, have always believed that our institution could be a home to extraordinary achievements, and through their service and generosity, they have made those achievements possible. The Schreyer Honors College may be the most visible manifestation of their commitment to Penn State, but Bill has had a profound and enduring impact across the University he loved so passionately, and he will be deeply missed by his countless friends in the Penn State community. As a volunteer and a supporter, he has set the standard for many generations of Penn Staters to come."

"The Schreyer Honors College is truly the fulfillment of Bill's vision and values," said Penn State President Graham Spanier. "Through his own life, he showed that real leaders are dedicated to both excellence and ethics. Thanks to the Schreyers' support and guidance, our students are graduating from Penn State prepared to follow in his footsteps and take on the challenge of conscientious service and leadership in an increasingly global society. His example and his generosity will continue to help our students and our institution to fulfill their vast potential."

The Schreyers made national headlines in 1997 with their $30 million commitment to endow the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State, one of the largest gifts in the University’s history and the single biggest commitment to the Grand Destiny campaign under way at the time. Their support created an integrated program of opportunities for top academic achievers, from a living-learning environment located in the University Park campus' Atherton Hall to merit-based scholarships and special seminars for students enrolled as Schreyer Scholars. Schreyer often remarked that after spending a lifetime on Wall Street, the Schreyer Honors College was still the best investment he ever made in life.

The program became a model for other higher education institutions. In 2006, the Schreyers renewed their support to the college with an additional commitment of $25 million toward scholarships, study abroad and international opportunities, and programs emphasizing civic engagement and leadership.

The Schreyers also left an indelible mark on the Smeal College of Business. They endowed the William and Joan Schreyer Business Library and the William A. Schreyer Libraries Endowment in Global Management Policies and Planning. William Schreyer was a member of the college's Board of Visitors and sat on the advisory board of the Center for Global Business Studies, where he endowed the William A. Schreyer Symposium Series.

"So much of what we do at Smeal has been touched by Bill Schreyer that it is impossible to know what the college would be without the impression he has left on it," said James B. Thomas, the John and Becky Surma Dean of Smeal. "His support of honors education is legendary, and has touched the lives of thousands of Penn State graduates. Long before global business became as common as accounting in business schools, Bill was instrumental in strengthening international business studies at Smeal. But most of all, even with his ascent to the highest levels of success in business, Bill loved spending time with, and mentoring, our students. He remains a role model for every Penn Stater."

"The world remembers Bill as the chairman and CEO of Merrill Lynch, as the strong leader America needed in a tough time for our economy. However, I remember him also as a strong supporter of Smeal and Penn State, and as a mentor and friend to so many of us," said Fariborz Ghadar, director of the Center for Global Business Studies and the William A. Schreyer Professor of Global Management, Policies and Planning. "His dedication to the University and our college was beyond limit. Despite his numerous responsibilities, Bill took time from his very busy schedule to chair the advisory board for the Center for Global Business, and his advice was invaluable. I am deeply saddened by his death, yet the wonderful memories of his friendship remain vivid for me. I will always be grateful for the honor of having known him."

Schreyer was born Jan. 13, 1928, in Williamsport, Pa. His father headed the local branch of financial services firm Merrill Lynch, and Schreyer's own career with the company began with a part-time post during his high school years, writing stock prices on the office chalkboard. He graduated from Penn State in 1948 receiving his degree from what is now the Smeal College of Business and returned to Merrill Lynch as a management trainee. His early posts included Buffalo, N.Y., where he met his future wife, Joan Legg. The couple married in 1953.

Over the following decades, Schreyer rose through the ranks at Merrill Lynch to become chief executive officer in 1984 and chairman in 1985. During his 45 years with the company, he helped it to become a dominant force in the global financial markets, and he is credited with helping to restore national confidence after the October 1987 crash with a television commercial in which Schreyer announced, "At Merrill Lynch, we are still bullish on America." He also deepened the corporation's engagement in the community and initiated the Merrill Lynch Scholarship Builder Program, a trust that assisted economically disadvantaged students with the costs of higher education.

Schreyer often credited his success to his Penn State education, and he was named a Distinguished Alumnus, the highest honor offered by the University to its graduates, in 1979. He served on the Penn State Alumni Council from 1980 to 1983, and he was a member of the Board of Trustees from 1986 to 1998, serving as president from 1993 to 1995. In 1984, he became chair of the Campaign for Penn State, the University's first comprehensive fundraising initiative. Under his leadership, the campaign exceeded its original goal of $200 million and raised a total of $352 million.

In the ensuing years, the Schreyers continued to lead the University's fundraising efforts by example, supporting areas across Penn State. Schreyer felt an especially strong connection to the Smeal College of Business. He mentored many students who went on to careers with Merrill Lynch and created several endowments in the college, including the William A. Schreyer Chair in Global Management Policies and Planning.

"Through his philanthropic and personal leadership, Bill Schreyer redefined what it means to be a loyal Penn Stater," said Penn State Senior Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Rod Kirsch. "He helped to make giving back an essential part of our culture, and his enthusiasm not only for the University's traditions but also for its future has inspired thousands of other alumni and friends to support Penn State through their gifts and service. I will miss his passion for Penn State, his keen insight into people, his quick wit and good humor, and his natural ability to relate to people from all walks of life."

Schreyer is survived by his wife, Joan, who was named an honorary alumna of Penn State in 1991; their daughter, DrueAnne Schreyer, and her husband, Rodney G. Frazier; and two grandchildren, Kelly and Charles. For more information on Bill Schreyer's life and accomplishments, visit

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