William Irby Hudson Pitts was a lifelong resident of Waverly Hall, Georgia. Born on a nearby plantation in 1862, Pitts attended local schools and then traveled to Atlanta to attend the Morris Business School. After working a year in Columbus, he returned to Waverly Hall to join his father’s mercantile business. Eventually, Pitts turned the small general store, along with early investments in Coca-Cola stock and other business activities, into a multi-million dollar fortune. A devout Methodist, Pitts attributed his good fortune to a golden rule that he hung in his family home: “All things work together for good to them that love God.”
In 1888, Pitts married Lula Cook Ellison of Ellerslie, Georgia. The couple had three children: Bessie, who died in 1907, W.I.H. Pitts, Jr., and Margaret Adger Pitts.
“Miss Margaret,” as she was called, never married and lived most of her life in the house her father built for the family. Both she and her parents were known for their philanthropy and their dedication to the Methodist Church. As one former business associate said of Mr. Pitts, he was “a man who was thrifty with a penny but charitable with dollars.” He gave away more than $1 million to charitable causes before his death at age 102 in 1964.
Upon establishing the William I.H. and Lula E. Pitts Foundation in 1941, Mr. Pitts named his daughter Margaret to a post as a lifetime trustee. Through the Foundation, the family gave away millions to Methodist causes and institutions, including LaGrange College, Andrew College in Cuthbert, Georgia, the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, Magnolia Manor in Americus, and Epworth-By-The-Sea, a Methodist retreat center on St. Simons Island.
Miss Margaret died at 104 years of age in 1998, and attributed her long life to good food, surrounding herself with good people, and asking the Lord to look after her every day.
Today, the trustees of the Pitts Foundation continue to honor the wishes of Mr. and Mrs. Pitts and Miss Margaret. The trustees use the original document as well as what is known of the donors’ philosophy as principal guides in making grant decisions.
“Of him it may be said as of one of England’s noble great: ‘He gave his substance to the poor, his sympathy to the suffering, his hand to the helpless, and his heart to God.'”
— Hubert T. Quillian,President of LaGrange College
speaking of Mr. Pitts on the founding of the Pitts Foundation