The Pulley Family Story

Some people dream of starting a multibillion-dollar company. Others fantasize about a life with a butler, a maid and seven houses around the world. The Pulley Family dreams a much simpler dream: the family strives to help college students realize their dreams so that they can in turn help someone else. This fall I had the privilege to sit down with Tish and Carolyn Pulley to hear their story and learn about more about the family’s passion for service. As I sat quietly listening to the awe-inspiring legacy of the Pulley Family I could not help but smile to myself; these were people who truly cared.  The eyes of both Carolyn, one of the 10 Pulley siblings and Tish, the wife of one of the siblings, danced as they laughed about the dynamic between the and tears gathered in their eyes as they talked about the Pulley siblings mother, Rose B. Pulley, and her soft-spoken heart for service. There was something special here. I could feel it.

The two outlined the lives of the Pulley Family like a well-written play over the course of the next two hours and I listened quietly, hanging on to every word… The Pulley Family grew up in Ivor in South Hampton Country, Virginia. The Pulley children understood service as a natural part of life, but learned the concept of civic engagement through work ethic, persistence and diligence.  Ragan Bradshaw Pulley, the eldest of the ten siblings, enrolled at The College of William and Mary in 1935 and started the Pulley Family tradition of attending the college that continued for the next 18 years. Carolyn described the siblings as individuals who wanted to give back in whatever way they could. R. Bradshaw, Franklin, and David Pulley, Tish’s husband, gave back to the country through military service and the other siblings that attended W&M contributed on a local level as teachers and in other ways in their individual communities. They truly believed that making an impact mattered. Bradshaw was so grateful for his time at the college that he invested in his younger brother, Franklin’s education. Franklin helped David through school and the story continued until five of the ten Pulley siblings had graduated from William and Mary. Each proceeding sibling helped the next one behind him until each one had achieved his or her goal of completing higher education. Their contributions to the college and life legacies have settled between the bricks, where they will lay forever.

One of the siblings, Marsden did not think it enough simply to support his siblings as they embarked on their educational careers through William and Mary; it was also about the many gifts the school had given to his family. To thank the college, every summer Marsden brought the best watermelon he could find in South Hampton County to the financial aid office to show his gratitude for their support and belief in his education. A simple gesture with the little he had to show that he appreciated the college.

When David Pulley passed away in 1993 the Pulley Family wanted to adequately honor his life and share his heart of service with the college community. To encourage a culture of service on the William and Mary campus, the family worked with then President Timothy Sullivan. Pulley Family members collaborated with the newly erected Office for Service to establish an endowment in David’s honor. The family understood the importance of service work, but also the necessity for college students to be making money during their summer vacation. Together, with the Office of Service the family established the Pulley Family Endowment for Public Service to provide funding for students to execute summer service projects so that they could afford to not be making money and instead donate their time to help people in need.  Jane Smith, class of 2012 received a grant from the Pulley Family and had the opportunity to travel to … “I feel so fortunate to have been able to take a summer to serve in Mexico and discover my passion for youth. I will certainly remember this kind gesture and give back in some way in the future.”

The first year the fund was established in 1994, family members were only able to send two students to perform service projects. Since that time the endowment has grown and sent over 150 students from W&M all over the United States and countries across six continents. The grant money now sends 12 students per year on service projects and is allocated to students through the Office of Community Engagement and Scholarship. The family’s contributions to the endowment have generated more than $150,000 in service grants. Family members hope that someday the fund will not only provide undergraduates with the opportunity to pursue their passion in service, but also recent graduates who are interested in nonprofit work or developing their own outreach initiative.

“We are good at telling the background, but the future and what’s to come – that is hard to know!” Tish Pulley exclaimed. “The beautiful thing about service is that it affects not only yourself, but your friends, children and others. People see you giving of yourself, whether in time or money, and the feeling rubs off. It really is nice to feel like you are making an impact on someone.”

If Rose B. Pulley was still with us today to see the impact her children have made, I think she would be proud. Students from a variety of backgrounds and academic interests are now offered the chance to explore their hearts and passion in service and give back in a productive and sustainable way. The Pulley Family story demonstrates a life lesson applicable to all: sometimes a little giving goes a very long way.

by Maddy Smith