Christie and George Walker are helping shape the future through a transformational investment in the University of Mississippi School of Business Administration, ensuring resources are available to recruit and retain outstanding faculty members to prepare generations of students for careers and life after graduation.
The Jackson, Mississippi, couple committed a $5 million gift to create the Christie Kirkland Walker Chair of Real Estate and the George Rea Walker III Chair of Finance in the business school. Income from the major gift will provide salary supplements, research support and creative resources for specially selected real estate and finance professors.
Chancellor Glenn F. Boyce applauded the Walkers’ dedication and significant gift.
“Christie and George Walker have made a powerful statement about the far-reaching impact of faculty support and the importance of assuring that our students are taught and mentored by outstanding scholars.
“We deeply appreciate the Walkers’ vision and trust in our stewardship of these resources. The legacy they’ve built will help our students pursue their career dreams and establish the next generation of business leaders.”
Motivated to ensure future students have the same opportunities for growth they themselves enjoyed on the Oxford campus, the Walkers — owners of Heritage Properties, a real estate development and management company with properties in seven states — said they had considered making this gift for a long time.
“We love Ole Miss and appreciate the preparation we received there,” George Walker said. “I majored in finance, and my wife majored in real estate, as did our four daughters. God has truly blessed our business; the Bible is clear: to whom much is given, much is expected. We want to give back to the School of Business Administration to see it flourish for future generations.
“As far as the long-term impact of the gift, we hope to recruit and retain top-notch professors in real estate and finance,” Walker said. “We can’t keep the best professors without competitive salaries. These resources are for Dean Ken Cyree to use to retain his best people and to attract other exceptional hires.”
The Walkers’ daughters Caroline Reed and Ann Elizabeth LoCicero earned Ole Miss degrees in real estate. Twin daughters Lillie and Sarah Grea Walker majored in real estate and minored in entrepreneurship and were active in the Real Estate Club. The Walkers also have six nephews — Craig Howard Kirkland, Clayton Kirkland, John Martin Walker, Bennie Kirkland, Baker Kirkland and Will Patterson — who graduated from the UM School of Business Administration with real estate, finance, banking and business degrees. One also has earned an MBA and two others are finishing their MBAs.
“Family is the root of our passion for Ole Miss,” she said. “George and I both feel very passionate about our gift to support faculty. It’s important to us to keep the business school and the university growing.
“I feel we have been blessed in so many ways. Because of my faith, it’s important to give back. Ole Miss was good to us, and I want it to help others grow. George and I love to help areas we care about and that will benefit others. Giving back is something we just do.”
George Walker echoed his wife: “We’ve always tried to teach our children that you give back either your time, talent or money or some combination thereof.”
Apparently heeding this advice, the Walkers’ daughter Caroline and her husband, Daniel Reed, just committed $25,000 to the Ole Miss First Scholarship program.
Business School Dean Ken Cyree said the Walkers’ gift will enhance the lives of hundreds of students every semester.
“Having a stellar faculty is crucial to providing the incredible educational opportunities we offer our students,” Cyree said. “The formal part of education is performed by the faculty, and the extent to which we can attract and retain world-class faculty greatly determines our future as a university.”
Both Christie Walker, a native of Jackson, and George Walker, a native of Leland, Mississippi, chose Ole Miss for their college home during their senior years in high school. George Walker’s father played football for the University of Arkansas during successful seasons, so he was also a Razorbacks fan. Both visited the campus and fell in love with it.
The Walkers met as college sophomores on a blind date and had most of their classes together in the business school. They had several influential professors including Dennis Tosh, Bill Rayburn and the now late Don Moak and Charles Walker.
Both felt Tosh was a “fantastic professor.” Christie Walker was the president of the Real Estate Club, and Tosh enabled her to bring in guest speakers. He also kept up with the Walkers after graduation, providing a study guide and a source of practical knowledge to Christie when she was preparing for the real estate exam and answering questions and giving support to them during their careers.
“Professor Tosh made an important impact on my life; he was amazing and led us into our careers,” Christie Walker said. “Ole Miss professors build more personalized relationships. That’s what we want our gift to do: keep the passionate professors and bring in more of them.”
In addition, George Walker would like to see more case studies offered in business classes. “If you go through a case study, starting at zero, and work all the way through it, you learn so much more than just studying a textbook,” he said. “I also like professors who teach by encouraging heavy class participation.”
After graduation, Christie Walker went into commercial leasing with the Wideman-Lafoe Co., where she worked for six years. George Walker got his start with Carol Kirkland, his mother-in-law, at The Kirkland Co., a company founded by his late father-in-law, Bennie Kirkland, and focused on multifamily subsidized housing.
Christie Walker’s work enabled George to break out and build his own company, The Grea Co., and then purchase Heritage Properties. He started buying and renovating properties, eventually buying a construction company. He now owns 12,000 apartment units.
Both Walkers said they find real estate to be interesting, making deals and networking, and neither said they could have endured careers sitting behind desks. Daughter Caroline Reed and son-in-law Andrew LoCicero work for Heritage Properties.
The Walkers and their children are close, enjoying time at their hunting camp in Canton, Mississippi, riding horses, fishing, playing tennis, cooking, traveling, snow skiing, watching movies and being at Ole Miss. They are in a group that hosts a tent every football Saturday in the Grove, with many members being lifelong friends and now including the group’s children and grandchildren.
“Ole Miss is about relationships and friendships,” Christie Walker said.
The Walkers are parents of Caroline Reed, Ann Elizabeth LoCicero, and twins Lillie and Sarah Grea, who live in Dallas, Texas, where they are studying for their real estate licenses. The Walkers are grandparents to two: Elizabeth Reed and Grea LoCicero.
To make a gift to the Christie Kirkland Walker Chair, click here, or to the George Rea Walker III Chair, click here. Checks can be sent to the University of Mississippi Foundation, with the name of the endowment written in the memo line, to 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655.
For information about how to support the Ole Miss School of Business Administration, contact Angela Barlow Brown, senior director of development, at email@example.com or 662-915-3181.
By Tina H. Hahn/UM Development