Brickell Williamson had an adventurous spirit that carried her all over the world during her years as a flight attendant – but family and friends already knew that, and they loved her for it.
What they found after her death in November at age 66 was a mindful spirit of generosity and a plan to help make lives better for others to live out their own bold ventures.
Williamson, of Scottsdale, Arizona, and a Meridian, Mississippi, native, left $1.8 million from her estate upon her death to the Manning Family Fund for a Healthier Mississippi. She began donating to the fund in 2013 after the death of her father, Lester F. Williamson Sr., a former district attorney and longtime judge in Meridian who also played football at Ole Miss in the early 1940s before serving in World War II.
“When daddy died and gifted us money, she earmarked it for the Manning family,” said Adele Graham, one of her four siblings. “I think she chose it because daddy idolized Archie Manning. Another reason was her love of medical research. She had donated to another charity for research out in Arizona.”
The donor-supported program is a partnership between the Medical Center and the Manning family. Funds support a wide variety of work to support UMMC’s missions of education, research and health care.
“Olivia and I are honored and truly humbled that Ms. Williamson shared our passion for building a healthier Mississippi,” said Archie Manning in a statement this week. “Her generous gift to the Manning Family Fund will be felt for years to come and is a win for Mississippi.”
Contributions to the fund often come from across the nation, which helps to shed light on health care challenges in Mississippi.
“We are so appreciative of the selfless contributions Ms. Williamson made to the Manning fund and her support in general for medical research,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “Our needs are always great, and the fund is geared specifically to handle those challenges.”
Williamson earned a Juris Doctorate from the University of Mississippi in 1982 and moved to Houston with the initial aim of practicing law. A roommate at the time suggested they get jobs with a relatively new air carrier called Southwest Airlines so they could travel while studying for the bar exam.
In a way, her first flight never really landed. Air travel became her career, and she settled in Arizona, where she rode horses like she used to while growing up and became an avid skier and golfer. Being a law degree-holding flight attendant was something she embraced, said longtime best friend, Loraine Wegmann of Houston, Texas, who first met Williamson in the third grade.
“She’d say, ‘I don’t want to do the law – I want to do the world!’,” Wegmann said. “She never got bored. She was still a Mississippi girl and true Southerner no matter where she went. Always cheering for Ole Miss. And a private person who liked being private about it, so it fits her to a T to have wanted to honor her father with the donation.”
Melissa Robinson, director of principal gifts and strategic planning at UMMC, said Williamson remarked in 2022 on charitable giving for both medical research and continuing her family’s support of the university, as part of Robinson’s doctoral research project in the Doctor of Health Administration program, in the School of Health Related Professions.
“Brickell supported causes with which she had a passion and a deep connection,” Robinson said. “She was connected to Ole Miss and the Mannings and wanted to ensure others could live their best active lives. So, donating to the Manning Family Fund made sense to her. She was never concerned with receiving recognition or praise. She just wanted to make a difference where she could. Her legacy gift will truly make a difference for so many Mississippians.”
During a portion of Robinson’s interview with her, Williamson said the Manning fund “would be perfect to give some of daddy’s money to; he would be happy with that.
“I work as a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines and I mean, I make a good living,” she said. “But when my parents died, I suddenly had more money. So, I started giving because it’s a good thing to do.”
By Danny Barrett Jr./UMMC Public Affairs