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With new $1 million commitment, Laniers continue to support student success

James A. Lanier Jr. ’79 and Mary Anne Anderson Lanier ’79 are watching ripples grow and expand toward a bright future. The couple previously committed $1.05 million to invest in Furman University’s Shi Institute for Sustainable Communities and are now adding to the effort with a $1 million planned giving commitment to Furman, bringing their total commitment to nearly $2.2 million.

The Laniers said they have been pleased with how The Furman Advantage is advancing, and they want to continue supporting that work, with the goal for students to continue to recognize the interdependence of fields of study, and to see them carry those lessons into practice as the mantle is passed to the next generations to care for the environment, no matter what their profession.

The new $1 million planned giving commitment is designated as unrestricted, which means it can be used in areas of the greatest need. Their giving touches a wide array of programs at Furman, including The Shi Institute, annual and endowed scholarships, Furman Innovation and Entrepreneurship, operations, and the Paladin Scholarship Fund.

“Specifically, to us, The Shi Institute we believe is going to be a key piece to positively influencing where the Furman Advantage is heading,” Jaime Lanier said.

It was Mary Anne Lanier’s late father, Ray C. Anderson, who started the momentum that is carrying his daughter and son-in-law forward as they support and encourage students.

“My dad started a carpet tile manufacturing company back in the ’70s,” Mary Anne said. “It’s now known as Interface. He built his company from the ground up within 20 years to become a billion dollar in sales, publicly traded company.”

But that impressive feat was what Mary Anne calls “the warmup to his most important mission.” In 1994, he shifted his methods, inspired change and began a legacy that permeates the work of his family today as they encourage future environmental leaders.

It started with a book, “The Ecology of Commerce,” by Paul Hawken, that someone had recommended to him, said Mary Anne.

“He said when he got to the second chapter of that book, he just started to weep because he was so convicted about the way the manufacturing industry was destroying the earth,” she recalled. “He vowed then and there that he would figure out how to make his company sustainable.”

Anderson set a goal of having a carbon footprint of zero for the business by 2020. It was achieved by those who carried on his vision following his death in 2011.

“When you have a shared purpose like that, it’s just a wellspring of innovation, thinking outside the box and looking for new ways to do things,” Mary Anne said. “For us, sustainability is very much a part of our DNA now. My dad’s attitude was that business and industry got us into this mess, and it’s the only institution big enough, persuasive enough and innovative enough to get us out of this mess – and who’s going to lead them? Why not us?”

That attitude is an example that melds well with Furman’s centers and institutes, including The Riley Institute, the Institute for the Advancement of Community Health, The Shi Institute for Sustainable Communities, and the Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Though they span disciplines, they can and do work together to foster creativity and innovative problem solving. That, according to the Laniers, is what can create substantive, global change.

“It all has to work together,” Jaime said. “A cleaner, better world works for all of these institutes as a positive and what they are trying to do. Liberal arts education has become broader in its scope. It’s in addition to the fundamentals of liberal arts that we have to start applying those fundamentals in today’s technology world – and smaller world. In the 40 years since we’ve graduated, it’s remarkable how much smaller the world has become.”


Last updated March 30, 2021
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Clinton Colmenares
News & Media Relations Director