Teacher, mother, wife and Clemson native Betty Holcombe has been a model of leadership, philanthropy and service.
Betty Morgan Holcombe is a true daughter of Clemson. She grew up not far from campus and has cherished memories from just about every corner. Betty even played high school basketball in the original Clemson Fieldhouse gym.
Both her parents worked for the University. She and her siblings all held summer jobs there. And a bright young Clemson engineering student would become the love of her life. Betty was still a student at Calhoun-Clemson High School when she met a boy from Central, Milton Holcombe ’53, through church friends. They dated for five years before getting married. Because Clemson did not accept women at the time, Betty went away to Winthrop College with plans of becoming an English teacher.
After her father died in 1954, aided by a small loan, summer and on-campus jobs, and a partial Byrnes Scholarship, she graduated in 1956.
Milton became a pioneer in airborne communications systems, co-founding Electrospace Systems Inc., a multimillion-dollar telecommunications and navigation systems firm that focused on military contracts. The partners later sold the company to the Chrysler Corporation. Even though their careers took them to Georgia, Florida and then Texas, Clemson was never far from their hearts.
Betty taught English for five years before she began the job she is most proud of, becoming a mother. She and Milton had twin girls, Kathryn and Karen.
Betty relished the role of motherhood while Milton worked 18-hour days building his business. Those years were filled with supporting Milton and taking care of two active daughters. Betty loved every minute of it, and she was determined to teach her girls to become strong young women.
Betty didn’t have to look far to find inspiring female role models. Both her mother and grandmother were widowed at a young age and learned to manage on their own, raising children and working to support them. Betty’s grandmother even ran the large family farm while raising ten children in the process.
That strength was passed on to the next generation and beyond. Betty is making sure her daughters, and now granddaughters, learn all they can about business, finance and investments. Today both of Betty and Milton’s daughters have high-level leadership roles in local government and philanthropy.
Nearly 30 years after they left South Carolina, Betty and Milton established the first endowed Chair in Electrical and Computer Engineering and 10 years later endowed the whole department at their beloved Clemson.
In June 2000, the department was renamed the Milton W. Holcombe Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. In total, the Holcombes have donated more than $6 million to Clemson. Their gifts launched the Milton W. and Betty M. Holcombe Fund for Excellence that sponsors programs such as undergraduate research for seniors, improved graduate education, visiting lecturers and faculty, and student enrichment.
Betty continued to pursue her own interests as well, attending graduate school when the girls were of school age. She completed her master’s degree in liberal arts from Southern Methodist University 18 years after finishing Winthrop. Philanthropy has been a constant in Betty and Milton’s life throughout the years.
In addition to their contributions to Clemson, Betty has endowed three academic scholarships and named the Morgan-Holcombe Alumni Center at her alma mater, as well as a Morgan Family Scholarship at Clemson. Her other passions include historical preservation and genealogy.
Even though it has been many years since Betty and Milton lived in Upstate South Carolina, it will always be home to them. Betty says she still gets a little teary-eyed while singing the words, “O’er the mountain height,” especially after so many years of living in the flat Texas plains.
But she wouldn’t change a thing about her life, raising a family with that ambitious Clemson engineering major from Central. In fact, she proudly shared that on June 24 of this year, she and Milton will celebrate 65 years of happy partnership and marriage. Now that is an accomplishment we can all admire!