Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans – The Power of a Dollar

Do you have a dollar in your pocket or purse?  I do.  To be honest, I have fairly low expectations for my dollar.  I may spend it thoughtlessly here or there, but I doubt my dollar will make much difference.

Each February, Westminster Canterbury Richmond gathers to celebrate Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans, our greatest single benefactor. I’m fascinated by the power of $1 – a particular $1 spent by Lettie Pate’s husband, Joseph Whitehead, in 1899.

In the late 1800s, Joseph came home to tell his wife, Lettie, his latest great idea.  “Lettie, I was just down at the corner drugstore counter enjoying a Coca-Cola.  Boy, is that refreshing!” I imagine he said.  “Wouldn’t it be nifty if I could bring one home for you?  The only way you can have it is at the drugstore. It needs that fizzy water.  There’s got to be a way to sell that delicious refreshing drink so you can take it home and enjoy it whenever you’d like!”  The thought kept running around his head until one day, he decided to turn his lawyer skills to good purpose, and with Lettie’s blessing, Joseph travelled to Atlanta, Georgia, for a meeting with Asa Candler, the president of Coca-Cola.  Joseph took with him a concise agreement.  One short page that would give him the rights to bottle that delicious drink.

Sure enough, he got to Atlanta and had that now famous meeting with Mr. Candler, who signed only because he thought the idea foolish and unlikely.  Whitehead returned home with a signed agreement that cost him $1. Never underestimate the power of $1 in the right hands!

The startup of Coca-Cola Bottling proved a challenging and exhausting endeavor.  After eight years, Joseph was utterly worn out and ill.  He died at only forty-two years old, leaving behind his thirty-four-year-old widow and two young sons.  Not wanting her husband’s life and work to have been in vain, Lettie took up the reins, pushing forward with the business. That $1 grew into millions.

One day in the later years of her life, Lettie asked a neighbor about his involvement in an Episcopal home for elderly women located in Richmond, Virginia.  You see, Lettie well remembered the women of her family who struggled in poverty during her childhood.  She wanted to make sure others lived a better life.

Lettie became involved, helping to provide for the well-being of the women.  The Protestant Episcopal Church Home became part of Westminster Canterbury Richmond’s founding, bringing with it a tradition of blending excellence and compassion that still defines us.

Eventually, Lettie grew old and died.  By then, she had amassed quite a fortune and had established foundations that grew and provide generously to causes she cared deeply about. She wanted other women to be able to establish careers, so her foundations have provided thousands of scholarships at colleges and universities. She cared deeply about the well-being of women as they aged, and the foundations have helped Westminster Canterbury and a number of other senior living organizations provide financial aid for seniors-in-need.  Lettie’s legacy provides generously for Westminster Canterbury Foundation’s Fellowship Program that provides life care – housing, meals, medical expenses and vital living to seniors-in-need.

That original $1 investment, followed with investments of energy, innovation, dedication and hard work produced quite a high percentage return!

So what about my $1, my life?  What about yours?  What about our impact?  Who knows!  You may never see the impact one generous act makes in the life of one person and the person after them.  You may never know the impact of encouragement you offer when someone needs it most.  So keep taking the time to smile, to encourage your own dreams and the dreams of others.  Keep investing in one another – that is how good things begin and keep going.  We can trust God to bless our efforts and multiply them.

For more information about Westminster Canterbury Foundation’s Fellowship Program, contact Elizabeth Vaughan.

 Story by Gayle Hunter Haglund, Director Resource Development, Westminster Canterbury Richmond.

Return to the blog.