News from campus and beyond

John ’54 and Jeanette Cothran: Sustaining a legacy of giving 

John ’54 and his wife Jeanette Cothran at their home at The Woodlands at Furman on January 16, 2024

Last updated February 9, 2024

By Tina Underwood

More than 10 years ago, John C. Cothran ’54 and Jeanette Cothran made an institutional gift toward establishing the endowment for the Center for Vocational Reflection at Furman University. The Center, formerly called the Lilly Center, is known now as the Cothran Center. At the time of the pledge, John said, “An investment in people never goes down in value.” The two stand by that today. 

The Cothrans, who live at The Woodlands at Furman, have pledged $1 million divided between the Partners Scholarship Program, the Cothran Center and the Timmons Arena renovation 

“We have always felt Furman offers an exceptional education,” said John, noting The Furman Advantage, smaller class sizes and low student-to-faculty ratio. “There are a lot of deserving students who can’t afford college at almost any level, but they are bright, brilliant and have great promise. They need a helping hand.” 

That’s why the Cothrans were on the ground floor of the Partners Program when it launched in 1998. “We’ve been very pleased with that program,” said John, who studied business and economics and now serves as emeritus trustee on Furman’s board. “It allows us to partner with those who are deserving of aid, and we get to meet the recipients, learn who they are and become friends with them.”  

The Cothrans cherish the letters they’ve received from students over the years. Jeanette, who attended Mars Hill College and graduated Winthrop University in business, said the students routinely praise Furman for the education they are receiving and its impact on their lives.  

“One student wrote, ‘It’s a dream to attend Furman, and I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the scholarship,’” she said. 

The family connection dates to John’s father, Rev. Joseph Guy Cothran, a 1922 alumnus and a U.S. Navy veteran. John served two years in the U.S. Army at Fort Knox after graduating Furman in 1954. He remembers making visits to Furman’s new campus, which broke ground in 1953. Back home from the Army and wrestling with career path decisions, John accompanied his father at the cornerstone-laying ceremony for the James B. Duke Library in 1956. 

As the crowd gathered for the ceremony, John’s father pointed out a gentleman wearing a white, 10- gallon hat and white coat – Greenville real estate mogul E. Roy Stone Sr. “My father said, ‘You might want to go into the real estate business,’” John recalled. Stone would become John’s employer and mentor, leading John to open his own real estate firm in 1962. A cascade of successful business ventures stretching five decades followed. 

Among a slew of posts and honors, including his induction into the South Carolina Homebuilders Hall of Fame, John is former member of the Hollingsworth Funds Board and chair emeritus of Verdae Development, Inc., and past president of the Greenville Board of Realtors and Home Builders Association.  

But John and Jeanette, longtime members of First Baptist Church, are most proud of their family stemming from their 63 years of marriage, including four sons, two of them Furman grads, six grandchildren and four great grandsons. 

“I’m proud of each one of them and what they’ve accomplished,” Jeanette said. 

Clark Cothran ’84 is a senior pilot with American Airlines, and Steve Cothran ’86, former Furman cheerleader, is associate pastor to youth and families at Central Baptist in Newnan, Georgia. Philip Cothran and Scott (“Bootie”) Cothran chose more entrepreneurial endeavors.  

Philip is a SCUBA instructor and boat captain who lives in Maui, Hawaii. He is also filming a documentary about humpback whale behavior. 

Bootie, a graduate of USC Upstate, appeared in eight seasons of “American Ninja Warrior” and is co-owner of Motive School of Movement in Greenville. 

The family attends dozens of Furman sporting events. Through the Partners Program, they follow team members from the basketball, football and tennis programs, and they are in the stands for most home basketball and football games. 

During a homecoming event for tennis alumni and current players, John, who played on the men’s tennis team in the day, brought his vintage wooden racket to show athletes how far the technology has progressed. “I left it with the coaches so they could use it as a museum piece,” John said, laughing. 

While attending Partners Program luncheons and other events, students sometimes ask John if he attended Furman. “I’ll tell them, ‘Yes, but not this Furman.’” Students didn’t occupy the current campus until 1961, and Black students were admitted only after desegregation, starting with Joseph Vaughn ’68. 

Like that 50s era racket, things change. But what remains for the Cothrans is their commitment to students and the value they bring to the Furman experience. 

The Cothrans’ gift is part of Clearly Furman, the Campaign for Our Third Century, the university’s historic comprehensive campaign, which aims to raise $426 million by 2026. Learn more about Clearly Furman, the Campaign for Our Third Century. 

Contact Us
Clinton Colmenares
Director of News and Media Strategy