My Giving Story: Ray Tysor

Advancing research that can change our world

Ray Tysor ’21 is remembered as a people person and a natural leader.  He was an Eagle Scout who continued to support the Boy Scouts as an adult.  He was a devoted member of his Methodist church, inspiring the congregation through his tithes and his teaching.  He was a lifelong fan of Duke, a place he often said not only prepared him for his career in mortgage loans, but also made it possible for him to help others. 

Born in 1898 in a small community in Randolph County, North Carolina, Tysor graduated from Trinity College (what Duke was called in the mid-19th century) and went on to set up a successful business in Greensboro.  When he retired, he built a darkroom in his home to process and print his own photos, snapshots that captured the beauty of his surroundings.  Among his favorites was the Blue Ridge Parkway that curves through the mountains of North Carolina.  Tysor also loved to take photos of his family, Duke graduates spanning three generations of spouses, children, and grandchildren.  

His appreciation for his alma mater moved him to make a planned gift to establish an endowment that would fund fellowships for graduate students in the biological sciences.  Tysor passed away in 1986, but his legacy lives on in the Ray J. Tysor Graduate Fellowship Endowment Fund.  Last summer alone, his gift gave eight students the means to research areas close to their heart—subjects that can have real-world ramifications such as the spread of invasive beavers in Patagonia and how cells coordinate their functions with their environment and make decisions.

“While he was, above all, a gentle and quiet man, he set a strong and good example in this way,” said Terri Robinson, Tysor’s daughter-in-law.  “Who knows what breakthroughs or discoveries will result from the hard work and groundbreaking research of these fellowship students in the coming years?”

Robinson shares more about the ideas—and ideals—behind Tysor’s gift and the impact it has made:

Why did Ray (or you) think philanthropy and giving back are important?

Ray wanted to give back to Duke and to the community in return for what Duke and his community had given him—opportunity and education. His gift continues to challenge us to think about how we can share our time and talents. We feel honored that Ray’s gift sets such a wonderful example. 

What led him to direct his support to graduate fellowships – and students specifically in the biological sciences?

Ray cared about Duke and education, about young people and family, and about the natural world.  So we like to think that he envisioned his donation as providing, in addition to advanced educational opportunities for graduate students, advances in the sciences that would make our world better for everyone.

Thinking about the future of the university, what aspirations or hopes do think Ray had for graduate students and Duke? What are your hopes?

It was important to him to help young people be able to pursue their studies in this area.  Today, we are happy that his generosity continues to make this possible, and we are excited that students will continue to have the opportunity to achieve their potential. 

Our broader hope is that Duke will continue to be able, through gifts like Ray’s and others, to provide financial assistance to gifted students and graduate students of any discipline who would not be able to attend Duke otherwise.

How does it feel to read the thank you letters from students who have benefitted from his generosity? 

We are so impressed by the thank-you letters we receive from students each year.  Their work sounds remarkable, and they all seem to be committed to their research in order to have a positive impact on the world.  It is clear that the funding they receive from the fellowship makes a difference in their lives and studies. 

Knowing that Ray’s gift lives on through these gifted students reminds our family of his kind heart and love for Duke.  Seeing photos of the recipients makes this impact even more real, since we can put faces with names, and know that his gift is in good hands and his wishes are being fulfilled.


What’s your inspiration?

Our charitable planning team can help you honor the memories, people, and places that matter to you. Contact us to share yours.

TAGS: Giving and Impact Stories

About the author

Gift Planning

Duke University’s Office of Gift Planning specializes in charitable gift planning for estates, charitable trusts and annuities, and other complex current and future gift plans.

For more information, please contact the Duke University Office of Gift Planning.