Progressive Power: Scholarship Spans Generations to Help Student Achieve Her Dreams
When Mary B. Wiggins started college almost a century ago, she was one of the generation's more progressive women pursuing higher education.
Even today – thanks to her generosity and that of her husband, William "Bill" Wiggins – she is helping University of West Georgia students break through barriers.
Thanks to the generous benevolence of the Wiggins, their family's endowment in the UWG Foundation is a beneficiary of their estate and, following Mary B. Wiggins' passing, will continue to honor their wishes to support UWG students through scholarships designated for needs-based residents of Carroll County like Abbie Smith, a UWG junior majoring in biology, the university's largest undergraduate major.
Smith – who benefited from some of the more than $4 million in scholarship funding awarded to UWG students in Fiscal Year 2019 – said her dream is to become a physician and pave the way for other women in the medical profession.
"I want to help make STEM careers more accessible for women to join and lead," she shared. "I am very passionate about women's equality, so using my career to empower other women to make the world better is a lifelong goal of mine."
Mary Brinkley was born April 11, 1926, in Decatur, Georgia, and graduated from the University of Georgia (UGA). She was an accomplished and talented artist who married William "Bill" Wiggins in 1946. A member of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Carrollton, Mary loved to travel with her husband and enjoyed reading and collecting art.
Bill Wiggins was born March 18, 1924, in Carroll County and attended then-West Georgia College in 1942. Following his service as a Navy Pilot during WWII, Wiggins received his law degree from UGA and began a practice in 1948, which later became Wiggins & Camp P.C. in 1970. He served both state and local government in several capacities, was a deacon and superintendent of Sunday School at Tabernacle, and was instrumental in establishing Carrollton's Neva Lomason Memorial Library .
Jim Camp, a lifelong Wiggins family friend and former business partner, said the couple was incredibly proud of their education and wanted those who come after them to succeed.
"I have no doubt that Bill and Mary would be more than pleased with Abbie receiving this scholarship," he said. "Although Mary's focus was on the arts, she received the help of so many doctors who helped her live into her 90s. We need more medical professionals, and Abbie is well on her way to being a great one."
Smith knows the difference doctors can make in people's lives. For over a year, her mother has battled pancreatitis, sepsis and peritonitis, leaving Smith to shoulder the family responsibilities herself.
"I had to work, run our home, pay for medicines, and also find time to study and go to class," she shared. "However, I was raised to never give up and have a courageous spirit, so I took this opportunity to grow myself."
The trying times inspired Smith to study biology at UWG.
Camp said that same resilience is a bond Wiggins and Smith share despite the generational differences.
"Mary experienced the loneliness of the death of her lifelong love and husband, and Abbie has experienced that feeling of helplessness at times of having to take on more than you thought you could," he noted.
Both women ultimately persevered. Knowing she could not back down from the circumstances, Smith steeled herself to better utilize her resources and manage her time.
"I had to give up a lot of things to ensure we kept the electricity on, ate every night or had necessary medicines," she said. "These events, while unfortunate, taught me how to be independent, strong, courageous and unafraid to speak up for myself or others."
Smith said she wished she could tell the Wigginses how greatly the scholarship influenced her life.
"Due to being low income and living in poverty, if it weren't for scholarships, I would never be able to expand to my full potential and receive such a meaningful education," she added. "I wouldn't be able to attend my lectures and lab each day and absorb the valuable knowledge that UWG provides to its students."
The scholarship enabled Smith to embody the Go West spirit, she said, by going out into the world every day with the mission of helping others.
"When a student Goes West, they are expected to uphold a certain standard set by the university," she concluded. "A teacher helping a struggling student learn more effectively or a physician helping heal a sick mom both embody the Go West spirit of making the world better. So no matter how simple or complicated it may be, my goal is to make someone's life better by helping them each day."