Thomasville, North Carolina, is home to the state’s oldest railroad depot and its oldest festival, “Everybody’s Day,” as well as The Big Chair — a 30-foot-tall concrete homage to the town’s once-bustling furniture industry.
It’s also where UNC-Chapel Hill alumnus Douglas Freedle ’63, ‘65 (LL.B.) was born and raised, and where he graduated from Thomasville High School more than 60 years ago with just one goal in mind.
“I only wanted to go to Carolina.”
When Freedle was accepted to UNC-Chapel Hill — the only university he applied to — he set out with his father’s full support. His father, who grew up on a farm in Davidson County, had wanted to go to college but didn’t want to burden his family with the cost of tuition. He ended up working in a hosiery mill most of his life, ultimately rising to superintendent.
“He wanted me to do better,” recalled Freedle, “and I did.”
Freedle left Carolina with a law degree six years later. He went on to earn a master’s degree in tax law from New York University and to build a lucrative career in finance, real estate and banking. In 1970, he started his own business, arranging real estate sale-leaseback transactions for major corporations.
“My law background gave me the ability to absorb and analyze details, weigh risks and then do what I needed to do under the circumstances,” said Freedle, founder and president of Janus Financial Corporation. “I’ve pretty much followed through with that philosophy my entire life.”
Freedle and his wife live in Tampa, Florida, where he runs his business and maintains an impressive collection of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. His hometown has never been far from his mind — he still has family in Thomasville and owns real estate in the area — but he recently decided to make a different kind of investment in North Carolina.
Fifty-five years after graduating from Carolina, Freedle donated $1 million to UNC School of Law to support incoming law students, with a particular emphasis on students from Montgomery County and Davidson County, where his parents were born and had ancestral lineage.
“Rural North Carolina communities have a shortage of lawyers,” explained Freedle. “I decided I wanted to create a scholarship that would fund people like myself from rural North Carolina. We’ve got to be able to accept the best students and educate them — and increase the likelihood that these students will return to serve rural communities.”
Freedle’s gift establishes two new endowed scholarships and an expendable fund that was used this fall to support incoming first-year law students. This fund helped the law school recruit the most impressive first-year class in recent history — and with a 93% rise in applications this year, it is likely this trend will continue, meaning scholarship support is going to be more critical.
“In the middle of a pandemic, we were able to recruit an impressive 1L class of 183 students with high GPAs and LSAT scores. They came with many different experiences and backgrounds but all with a passion for the law,” said Martin H. Brinkley ’92, dean and Arch T. Allen Distinguished Professor of Law. “Geography and lack of resources should never get in the way of someone’s dream to attend law school. Because of Douglas’s gift, we can attract and recruit the best and brightest students who deserve to be at Carolina Law. His gift will change the lives of many students for years to come, and we are so grateful for his thoughtful generosity.”
Among this impressive first-year class is Thomasville native Elijah Moffe, who graduated from East Davidson High School in 2014. Moffe majored in Africana studies at Davidson College and taught for Teach for America for two years before earning a master’s in education from Johns Hopkins University.
“I saw a lot of issues with equity in the school system that couldn’t be handled in the classroom,” shared Moffe. “I wanted to approach these inequities through law, and UNC-Chapel Hill was at the top of my list because of their public service mission and pro bono opportunities.”
The scholarship and financial aid package Moffe received — thanks in part to Freedle — sealed the deal, bringing him to Carolina and back to his home state.
“I would have had to take out more loans or attend a different school, which would have been detrimental to my hopes of getting an education at Carolina,” Moffe said. “I’m so glad there is support being given by generous alumni like Mr. Freedle to students from rural areas, where there’s a lot of potential and people who have so many talents and skills but who need the financial opportunity to make their dreams come true.”
Freedle’s $1 million gift counts toward the Carolina Edge, the Campaign for Carolina’s bold commitment to raise $1 billion for scholarships and fellowships for students at every level — from undergraduate and graduate students to those in professional schools, like UNC School of Law.
Visit campaign.unc.edu to learn more about the Campaign for Carolina.