Transformational gift to support Tar Heel football program is a family affair

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will name the field at Kenan Memorial Stadium to honor a member of a family passionate about Carolina football.

The Smith family
The Smith family.

On May 4, Carolina Athletics and the Rams Club announced their largest gift in history: a transformational commitment to support the Carolina football program with resources to build on its recent success and secure future excellence.

The gift was made by the Eddie and Jo Allison Smith Family Foundation, headed by Eddie Smith Jr. ’65 and co-founded with his late wife, Jo Allison Smith. The Smiths are familiar to many on Carolina’s campus – their range of giving exemplifies their diverse interests and generous nature, as well as the abiding love of a Carolina family with deep roots in Chapel Hill.

The Smith family’s gift to Carolina football will support staffing needs, fund facility improvements and help build an endowment to cover future operating costs. It also honors Eddie and Jo Allison’s son, Chris Smith ’87, by naming the field at Kenan Memorial Stadium the Chris Smith Field.

“Eddie and his family have made a difference on every corner of our campus, and by extension our state, nation and world,” said Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz. “This gift builds on an already remarkable legacy of generosity and leadership.”

In addition to the transformational gift to the Carolina football program, the Smith family’s legacy includes generous support of the UNC School of Medicine, where the family has established professorships, fellowships and numerous clinical research funds. The family has also made major contributions to student scholarships, the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, the UNC College of Arts & Sciences and the University Libraries, among many other areas.

Eddie Smith, owner, chairman and CEO of Grady-White Boats, based in Greenville, North Carolina, has filled numerous leadership roles at Carolina, including serving on the UNC Board of Trustees and as chair of the Rams Club. He is well aware that some may question his decision to give to athletics, now, in this time of uncertainty.

So why athletics, and why now?

“Our family believes in the positive impact the University of North Carolina and its athletic program can have on our communities,” said Eddie. “Watching the Tar Heels play in Kenan Stadium has been a family affair for over 60 years, and it was important to us to support Coach Mack Brown and his vision for Carolina football.”

Their gift certainly comes at a time of great momentum for Carolina football. Last season, the Tar Heels finished with a winning record in Mack Brown’s first season back in Chapel Hill and captured the program’s first bowl victory since 2013.

The Smiths have entertained the idea of making a significant gift to Carolina football for years. Longtime friends of Mack Brown and his wife Sally, Eddie and Jo Allison were further encouraged by Brown’s return to Carolina.

The past year, however, has been filled with harrowing news and losses for the family. Chris Smith was diagnosed with ALS in July 2019. Then, in February 2020, Jo Allison passed away after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

“Eddie and Chris are dear friends of Sally and me, as was Eddie’s wife and Chris’ mother Jo Allison. They share our vision for Carolina football,” said Brown. “This gift helps give us the means to continue building a program representative of the excellence we see every day at UNC and to ensure that the same excellence will remain into the future. We often talk about our Carolina football family, and the Smiths have been a major part of that for a long time. Family has always been important to them, and we’re so glad they will remain associated with the program through this gift and field naming. We’re honored to share in their legacy and thankful for their continued support of our program. We have asked everyone in our program to ‘Be The One’ and the Smith family is doing that. They are the best.”

The Smith family’s latest gift counts toward the Campaign for Carolina Athletics and University’s most ambitious fundraising campaign in history, For All Kind: the Campaign for Carolina. The Campaign for Carolina launched in October 2017 with a goal to raise $4.25 billion by December 2022.