Mary Sharp and Dr. Jim Rayner

(OXFORD, Miss.) – Mary Sharp Rayner and her family have made their home in Oxford for 39 years, enjoying all the events and opportunities afforded by a college community. Instead of being simply a spectator, however, Rayner has rolled up her sleeves and become deeply involved in helping strengthen the University of Mississippi in many areas.

To pay tribute to her contributions and particularly to her dedication to the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy, Dr. Jim Rayner, her husband, has provided a $110,000 gift to endow an OMWC scholarship in her honor. Mary Sharp Rayner has just concluded a two-year term as chair of the council, which provides young women and men scholarships that are enhanced by mentoring and leadership training. 

“Mary Sharp is really enthusiastic about the Ole Miss Women’s Council – well, she’s more than enthusiastic, it’s a passion of hers,” said Jim Rayner. “She is a fervent believer in the mission of the Women’s Council, and she’s always completely committed to what she does. I can think of no better way to honor her than to fund a scholarship in her name – she deserves this.”

Celebrating its tenth anniversary, the OMWC has worked to grow its endowment to $7.3 million and has awarded 65 scholarships.

“Mary Sharp Rayner has been a powerful influence for the Ole Miss Women’s Council since the first day she became a member,” said Jan Farrington of Jackson, former council chair and a longtime friend. “As OMWC chair, she has worked diligently and tirelessly to see that our programs continue to grow during very troubling economic times. She has shown exemplary leadership in not only keeping our existing programs strong but in establishing new ones, as well. Her successful two years as council chair is just one more way that Mary Sharp has shown her continued love, commitment and devotion to Ole Miss.”

Farrington and others introduced Rayner to OMWC and encouraged her to get involved.

“The idea that our work helps change the course of young peoples’ lives is very meaningful,” Rayner said. “I called a prospective student last week to offer her a scholarship, and she told me her parents had said she would have to have a scholarship to attend college. Her emotional response to a scholarship touched me.

“The Women’s Council also works to broaden our scholars’ entire college experience by providing a wealth of opportunities,” she said. “For example, some students have never traveled before, and when they do through Women’s Council-sponsored trips, it is amazing to enjoy their experiences through their eyes.

“I am thrilled that Jim established this scholarship,” Rayner said. “The key to success is getting the best education possible and embracing every opportunity that comes. This scholarship fund will help students do that. The Women’s Council and other programs across the university are attracting such bright students because of the education Ole Miss offers. Private gifts provided by alumni and friends have given this university the ability to reach for the stars.”

A native of Grenada, Rayner pursued a degree in education from Ole Miss and was active on the Debate Team and in Delta Delta Delta sorority. After graduation, she taught high school speech, English and history for four years in Jackson and Memphis before becoming a mother and then working as the office manager of her husband’s medical practice, Rayner Eye Clinic of Oxford.

Rayner is one of three women who have led the national Ole Miss Alumni Association as president, which requires a four-year commitment, and she is serving her seventh year as a board member of the University of Mississippi Foundation. Jim Rayner, who graduated from the Medical Center, is a former member of the foundation board, and the two have supported a number of academic and athletic initiatives. They credit their involvement to the fact that when they settled in Oxford, they lived next door to Shirley and Eddie Crawford, who introduced them to the university community.

“Mary Sharp has been a great volunteer for the Alumni Association and the university for years. She always says ‘yes’ when Ole Miss calls on her,” said Tim Walsh, executive director of Alumni Affairs. “In addition to her time, she has been equally generous with her resources. I don’t know of an area of the university that has not been touched by Mary Sharp Rayner.”

Jim Rayner said, “Mary Sharp is extremely hard-working and dedicated. She has always been a strong supporter and a goodwill ambassador for Ole Miss.”

The Rayners are the parents of three grown children, Roane Grantham, Dr. Whitney Rayner and Bradley Rayner, all of Oxford; and the grandparents of four, Mary Morgan and Sharp Grantham and Lila and James Rayner.

To learn more about the OMWC, establish a scholarship or make a gift to an existing scholarship, please visit www.umfoundation.com/omwc.

Tina Hahn