John H. Whitcomb M.B.A. ’85 credits influential professors at William & Mary’s Raymond A. Mason School of Business with preparing him to build a successful career in real estate. Now, more than three decades later, he and his wife, Yvonne, want to support that tradition of academic excellence for future generations of business leaders.
Through a new $1-million gift, they are establishing the John and Yvonne Whitcomb Business Professorship Endowment to support a faculty member who teaches in the area of real estate, finance or entrepreneurship.
“Real estate has been my life,” John Whitcomb says. “Between hedge funds, private equity and institutional and everyday investors, there’s so much money chasing real estate now that it deserves some attention. In those segments of the real estate market, values are at an all-time high.”
Initially, the couple had planned to fund the professorship through a $500,000 estate gift, but they recently decided to double that amount and make an immediate difference.
“Our thinking was, since we are in a position to have a significant impact, let’s have one,” John Whitcomb says.
Dean Lawrence B. Pulley ’74 says the Whitcombs’ commitment demonstrates the profound and enduring influence of the business school’s world-class faculty.
“We are humbled by John and Yvonne’s generosity and we are deeply grateful for their gift,” Pulley says. “They applied the knowledge they gained here to pursue lives of principled achievement not only in the real estate field, but also in making the world a better place. By creating this new professorship, they ensure that we will continue to attract and retain the best faculty talent.
Although both Whitcombs are natives of Bradenton, Florida, John had visited Williamsburg as a youth, when his father would travel to Fort Lee near Petersburg, Virginia, for Army Reserve training, so he was aware of William & Mary’s reputation as a “Public Ivy.” While he enrolled in the MBA program, Yvonne took undergraduate finance and accounting classes that have helped her manage the Whitcombs’ investment real estate properties.
John Whitcomb fondly recalls his classes with Professor Emeritus James Haltiner, a former MBA program director who taught economics and finance, and with the late Richard “Dick” Flood, who taught statistics and modeling. (Flood passed away a year ago, in March 2021.)
Courses in finance, statistics and accounting prepared him well for a career appraising investment-grade real estate, Whitcomb says. Outside the classroom, his business school professors also took in interest in him as a person, occasionally inviting him to play golf with them.
After graduating from William & Mary, Whitcomb first took a job as a real estate appraiser in Philadelphia with Marshall & Stevens before moving back to his home state of Florida, where he worked with several different companies before striking out on his own in 1996.
Whitcomb Real Estate, which specializes in appraisal of manufactured housing communities and recreational vehicle parks, grew to be national in scope, operating in as many as 40 states.
That meant significant business travel, but now that John is semi-retired, the Whitcombs mostly travel for fun. After putting several trips on hold during the pandemic, the couple plan to visit Spain, Botswana and Croatia this spring.
In addition to their business and travel activities, the Whitcombs volunteer their time and leadership skills with Southeastern Guide Dogs, a charitable organization that provides companion dogs for Gold Star military families, veterans battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and people with vision impairment and other disabilities.
They also have more time these days to spend with their two adult sons, who also live in Florida, and to return to Williamsburg, where they attended a football game in the fall and tailgated with Pulley and his wife, Penny.
“I started to reconnect with William & Mary about five years ago,” John Whitcomb says. “I am thankful to the place where my career path started.”